Saturday, December 26, 2009

Priorities for 2010

Between anticipating the end of the year, picking apart Crespo's analysis of Calderón's goals, and reading Boz's recent posts on Mexico, now seems like a logical time to address Mexico's big-picture problems. One point Boz has made on a couple of occasions this year is that Calderón, despite all the hullaballoo about the army, hasn't offered any indication of what his strategy is. The use of the army is a very visible tactic, but to what end, in what way, and with what specific short- and long-term objective are the troops being deployed?

A related element that is conspicuously absent in Mexico is a "Calderón Doctrine", of the sort that US presidents usually lay out in their first year in office. Presidential foreign-policy doctrines are inevitably pretentious (ending tyranny in our world comes to mind) and often contradict reality (how do you square an emphasis on democracy with US support for Egypt?), but they do offer a window into a president's strategic priorities, something that is lacking in Mexico. Calderón could go a long way toward filling that void with a speech laying out his security priorities. Mine would be the following:
1) Eliminating the groups that threaten the state, either by corruption or assassination. This cannot just be about arresting the kingpins or attacking the lower level operators and financial networks, but both.

2) Eliminating groups that threaten free society. This requires placing more emphasis on combating groups whose revenue is based more extortion and kidnapping than drugs.

3) Making Mexico’s most violent places safer.

4) Reducing the consumption of drugs in Mexico, and the flow of drugs northward.
The message for criminals would be, don't mess with the state, don't mess with civilians, and you have a better chance of surviving. Building on the assumption as long as the US has a drug prohibition, Mexico will have organized crime, the best-case scenario ten years from now is a nation in which the gangs are less violent, more defensive, and well aware of their relative weakness compared to the government. Of course, without dramatically reducing impunity, that message loses a lot of its force, and a dramatic improvement in the capacity and honesty of the police is a prerequisite.

Of course this is not comprehensive, and perhaps some radical overhaul, stemming from an embarrassing oversight, is required; in any event, I'd welcome anyone's comments on the above list.

Incidentally, I'm heading out of town, so that's all for 2009. I extend a sincere thanks to everyone who read Gancho this year, and I look forward to seeing you all in 2010. Happy Holidays!

Mitofsky's End-of-Year Polls

Calderón slipped to a 55 percent approval rating --the lowest level of his presidency-- in the December poll, down three points from November. (More here on Calderón's declining poll numbers.)

On the economy, however, there does seem to be a slight trend away from pessimistic perceptions. Around three quarters expected next year's economic situation to be worse than the present year's, which may not reflect a nation of pollyannas, but is a four point improvement since October. Likewise, 86 percent of the population say that this year is worse than last year, but that's two points fewer than the number saying it in October. More for the first time since this summer, the proportion of respondents saying that economic concerns are the most pressing (compared to security) also dropped. The number of Mexicans saying that country is on the wrong track also ticked down by more than a point this month. These are small numbers that shouldn't be interpreted as a sea change in national confidence, but it's something to keep an eye on nonetheless.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Less of One Substance, More of Another

Tequila sales dropped by 20 percent in 2009. But Excélsior, citing the latest National Survey on Addiction, reports that consumption of drugs in Mexico increased by 50 percent from 2002 to 2006. (Actually, the headline says that, but the article says that it's the number of addicts that jumped by half. Color me confused.)

I'm not quite sure why this is news; the survey was released in September of 2008. I'm also not sure where the 50 percent figure comes from; this report (also from Excélsior) says that the number of drug users jumped by about 20 percent. It doesn't mention the gross national consumption (or addicts) as separate from drug users, but a 20 percent jump in drug consumers over six years would seem to be inconsistent with a 50 percent jump in consumption (or addicts) in four years. This is a stat that is misstated with some frequency. Referencing the same survey, earlier this year Genaro García Luna said that drug consumption doubled over the same period. It would seem that the point of a large national study would be to clear up this sort of confusion. Alas, not so easy.


The CNDH, echoed by many voices around Mexico, says that the federal government needs to explain why it made Melquisedec Angulo's name public, a decision which led to the murder of four members of the slain marine's family earlier this week.

In retrospect, a bit more discretion would have been prudent, but hindsight is, as they say, always 20-20. It should also be pointed out that the names of soldiers killed in the line of duty are not typically kept under wraps, and such an act of violence against the family of a soldier/marine was close to unprecedented.

The Doldrums of the Mexican Movie Industry

Despite an ample supply of homegrown talent, Mexico's movie industry seems to have plateaued a bit after setting the world on fire in the first few years of the decade. There's surely lots of reasons for this, (an obvious one being that the nation's best directors and actors work primarily outside of Mexico), but this likely plays a role:
It is estimated that in Mexico, for every peso that comes into the theaters from ticket sales, around 65 cents stay with the theater company, 20 percent go with the distributor, and the remaining 15 percent wind up in the hands of the producer, who is the one who invests the funds so that the film is made.
In other words, the theater owners are the industry heavyweights, which is good for them, but not for the vitality of the industry, because the heavyweights can get rich piggybacking off of Hollywood's innovation rather than stimulating their own. One small but revealing example of this: in 2007, when Poder put a Mexican cinema titan on its cover, it went with Alejandro Ramírez, the owner of the theater chain Cinépolis, rather than someone who actually makes motion pictures.

The above price distribution seems totally skewed. In the US, theaters have a sliding scale, in which they make very little on a film's sales in the first weekend (sometimes as little as 0 percent on tickets if it's a guaranteed blockbuster), but with their cut steadily increasing the longer the film remains in theaters. (More here and here.) In short, the theaters end up with a much smaller cut, while the people actually responsible for the film's existence are amply rewarded. That's part of the reason you get gouged on concessions more in American theaters, but that's a small price to pay for the regular arrival of compelling films.

In Mexico, that's sadly not the case. But it's not only the compelling films that have been absent, but the crappy films. Most weeks, 90 percent of the theaters in Torreón are filled with Hollywood movies, and the Mexican movies that do arrive are often years old and supported by puny marketing efforts. Were the potential profits greater, one would think that private financing for movies would be much more accessible, and local films --memorable art and regrettable dreck alike-- would be more numerous. In such a world, maybe Cuarón and Del Toro would spend most of their time making movies about Mexico.

Or maybe the theater companies should become movie studios.

More Mexico on the Web

An early Christmas present for Mexico-philes: Former editor of The News and (more importantly) occasional Gancho commentator Malcolm Beith has a new blog here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Effects of the Crisis

According to the Siglo, there are more people hawking burritos in Torreón at nighttime than ever before. One official estimates that there are some 800 street-corner burrito salesmen operating around the city today, and implies that the figure could have quadrupled in the past year. I imagine that the quadrupling is not true, and that the official was either exaggerating or it was a slip of the tongue. But there do definitely seem to be more burrito stands around Torreón at night these days, which makes sense with major factories operating at below capacity and line operators in need of a new way to make a living.

I actually used to buy burritos all the time from the second stand pictured, and they were really, really good, especially those of deshebrada. The stand deserves its own feature article.

Looking Long-Term

Enrique Peña Nieto says that Mexico needs to look beyond its immediate problems and start thinking about long-term solutions that look beyond the immediate political circumstances, and endure beyond one presidential term.

This sounds pretty standard political boilerplate, except you really don't hear too much of that sort of talk in Mexico (or maybe the Obama campaign just raised my tolerance for that kind of thing). In terms of fiscal and Pemex reforms, not to mention a successful security strategy, it's also broadly true. If you think about what kind of political situation would lend itself to those sorts of long-term solutions, it's not hard to picture a Peña Nieto administration having an easier time passing lasting reforms than Calderón has. Ideologically, an opposition PAN would probably be more coherent than the PRI has been for the past three years, and one would think that the PRI would line up behind President Peña Nieto's proposals. Both of these facts --a PRI forced to take concrete positions, and an opposition party with more ideological coherence-- would likely be more conducive to significant reforms.

New Faces

Felipe Calderón has relieved Jorge Tello Peón of his post as executive secretary of the National System of Public Security, replacing him with Juan Miguel Alcántara. Tello Peón will continue serving as an advisor to the national security cabinet.

Tello Peón was brought into Los Pinos in October of 2008 amid much fanfare. At the time, Jorge Fernández Menéndez wrote:
Jorge Tello Peón is perhaps not only the most respected national security specialist inside and outside of the country, but also the man that, with a complete team and, as a result, very clear political direction, provided the best results to the Mexican state in those difficult tasks.
While in the job, however, Tello Peón was virtually invisible, either because he was more comfortable working behind the scenes, or, what seems more likely now, because he was marginalized. Whatever the case, Fernández's high hopes never became a reality.

Attacking Government Officials

These two stories haven't received a lot of attention: in a border town in Coahuila, gunmen opened fire on a restaurant where a half dozen high level state and municipal officials (including the mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas) were meeting, thankfully without killing anyone. And in Sinaloa, the state Tourism Secretary and his driver were shot to death while driving in Culiacán yesterday.

This here is a pretty good example of the huge differences between Mexico's crime problems and those in the US, and why it's dangerous to use one as a reference point for the other (as I wrote about yesterday). In Mexico, the above were not huge stories (they garnered teasers on the front pages of the national dailies, in some cases accompanied by a short note). This is partly because of the focus on the murder of Melquisedec Angulo's family, but also because they've become run of the mill. Were a meeting of a half-dozen government officials interrupted by gunfire from criminals in the US, it would presumably be a national news story, the public reaction would be one of shock and anger, and there would surely be an immense manhunt. Here? Eh.

Sarmiento on Same-Sex Marriage

Sergio Sarmiento offers a pretty good synopsis of what I sort of think will be the prevailing reaction to same-sex marriage in Mexico:
Maintaining the prohibition on marriage between homosexuals is a popular position because the majority of Mexicans aren't gay and think that this preference is a perversion. The correct question that a modern society as, however, isn't if people agree with gay marriage, but rather if it generates some harm to third parties. And the answer is no.

With the absence of damage to third parties, it makes no sense to continue the prohibition of marriages between homosexuals. The government mustn't have the power to obligate one person to get married, nor the power impede two people from doing so only because they are of the same sex. Marriage is a simple civil contract that implies the commitment to maintain an enduring relationship with certain rights and obligations. The Church has, of course, the right to restrict religious weddings, but a secular state has no reason to assume the position of the Church as its own.
I say "sort of" above because, although I think Sarmiento's diagnosis squares pretty well with what I've seen from conservative Mexicans, nothing is stopping an ambitious governor from making a name for himself by leading the backlash. And while many conservative Mexicans might sympathize with the above logic, said sympathy would probably not be enough for them to try to block a ban on same-sex marriage. I should also add that I don't think becoming the preeminent anti-gay politician in Mexico would be a path the presidency, but it would certainly ensure national headlines.

The Health Minister's Ambition

José Ángel Córdova, who won mostly plaudits by spearheading Mexico's response to the swine flu, has said that he's interested in being Guanajuato's governor. One would think that, given his relative celebrity and the PAN's strong record in the state, he would be a formidable candidate. (Of course, with the next gubernatorial election not due until 2012, we are putting the cart miles before the horse, but never mind that.) Guanajuato's is known as Mexico's foremost crazy-right stronghold, home to the Yunque wing of the PAN. As far as I know (which honestly isn't too far), Córdova is more of a technocrat than an ideologue, and isn't much associated with that group.

Marriage Polling

An online/telephone poll from Imagen radio has 73 percent of respondents rejecting same-sex marriage. The audience there skews right, so we'll have to wait until we see some more scientific polls to have a really good sense of the reaction here. Nonetheless, the 73 percent is higher than I would have guessed. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that those three quarters are particularly adamant in their feeling, but it does suggest that there exists a vein of opposition should politicians wish to make this an issue outside of Mexico City.


Authorities in Tabasco have arrested four who they claim were involved in the murder of the relatives of the marine slain in last week's operation that resulted in Arturo Beltrán Leyva's death. (Kind of a convoluted sentence, feel free to reread a few times.) The government says that the four are linked to the Zetas, and also that as-yet-unnamed police participated in the killing.

I said yesterday that the marine's mother and two sisters were killed. In fact, I've read conflicting reports, but the most often reported version is that his mother, a sister, a brother, and an aunt were the family members killed. Apologies for the confusion.

Mexico on the Radio

I was on Silvio Canto's radio show yesterday, talking about Beltrán Leyva and the past year in Mexico. I haven't counted, but I think I managed to keep my y' knows to below 6,000.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chabat on Beltrán Leyva

It was not a surprise to see José Antonio Crespo not fall all over himself in excitement, but Jorge Chabat's objection was more surprising. Specifically, he (rightfully) thought the pictures of Beltrán Leyva's dead body covered in money and other objects were disgusting, and a disturbing sign that the government isn't concerned enough about taking the moral high road:
The scandal of the narco-photos reflects a deeper problem that lies at the heart of our transition to a democracy: the absolute absence of understanding for a good part of the population and the authorities of the rule of law and human rights. Ultimately the conflicts between the authorities and the criminals are only an issue of power and not legitimacy. There are no "good guys" and "bad guys" in this fight: just two bands looking to do away with the other.
Good point. This gets at why cleaning up the army shouldn't be an issue merely for AI and Human Rights Watch and knee-jerk opponents of Calderón, but first and foremost for those who favor a confrontational stance and think the army has a role to play in the fight against drug trafficking. The longer the army acts as or can be seen as a serial abuser, the harder it will be for the government to paint themselves as the legitimate party.

Crespo on Beltrán Leyva

Here's part of José Antonio Crespo's reaction to Arturo Beltrán Leyva's death:
[T]he benefits of this operation remain less clear, from the declared purposes of this strategy: reduce violence and insecurity. The participation of the marines on dry land leads specialists and observers to suspect that the army is already penetrated by the narcos, and that from the inside the could give a "heads-up" to Beltrán. It wouldn't be unusual, because everything that gets close to drug trafficking becomes corruptible. The Americans know it well and that's why they don't involve their army in direct fighting against drugs. Are the marines the only trustworthy institution we have left? Until when?
Those are valid points, but two mistakes should be cleared up: first, Calderón's strategy is not primarily about lowering violence, but about weakening the criminal gangs. For better or for worse (certainly worse in the short term), Calderón's government has favored the importance of weakening the institutional threat from organized crime over reducing violence, both in terms of rhetoric and action.

Second, the US military actually does have a role in fighting drugs (Killing Pablo and I believe Whiteout, as well as another book from around 2001 from the Cato Institute whose name I can't recall, are some books where that role is dealt with pretty extensively), and the reason its role is not greater inside the nation has a lot more to do with traditional barriers on the US military participating in domestic law enforcement than with fear of the corruptive power of drug traffickers.

Later, as he has regularly done in recent weeks, Crespo conflates the issue of drug trafficking with drug use:
Meanwhile, the rule of law, and the Mexican state in general, continues deteriorating in this exhausting and counterproductive war, against which there absolutely are alternatives that don't equal surrender (such as those applied in Europe and the United States, where more drug consumption of drugs is registered).
This is, as ever, flawed. It supposes that the basic goal of Calderón's crime strategy is lower consumption, which is just flatly not true. I don't know who is arguing such a thing. In this passage (though not elsewhere), Crespo ignores the fact that the drug traffickers in Mexico aren't a threat specifically because they traffic drugs, but rather because they hoard hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars through criminal enterprise, they assassinate and corrupt police and the civilian authorities at very high levels of government, and they retain the capacity to threaten the state in many parts of the country. Even in the most violent parts of the US, where the murder rate is far higher than in, say, Nuevo Laredo (though still nowhere near the figure in Juárez), that's not the case. The sort of notoriety, power, and impunity simultaneously enjoyed by Chapo would be unthinkable for an American criminal in this day and age. Nor is it, from what I understand, very different in the more developed parts of Europe. One of the striking points from Gomorra was how short the reign of the Italian bosses was, because they were inevitably captured.

The basic source of this logical fallacy is that drug trafficking and drug use are two very different phenomena, which present very different challenges. The US can take a different approach to drugs, because it doesn't have to deal with criminals who are a threat to the nation's democratic institutions. Mexico does.

Making Things a Bit More Personal

Erstwhile employees from the liquidated electricity company LyFC today protested outside of the home of Labor Secretary Javier Lozano this morning. According to a radio interview I heard, he called the Mexico City police to report the disturbance, but they refused to respond. (At which point Lozano made an unfortunate snide comment about gay marriages, although much as I may dislike the thrust of the comment, his frustration with Ebrard's government seems somewhat justified.)

For those keeping track at home, 63 percent of the workers who were laid off from LyFC have accepted their buyout. This indicates a serious deceleration. On November 7th, less than a month after the takeover, the figure was already above 50 percent.

Gay Marriages and the Range of Reaction

The government of Mexico City has legalized homosexual marriage, which means, among other things, we can expect a cooling in bilateral relations if Marcelo Ebrard and Rick Santorum are both elected president in 2012. The PAN and PRI both voted against the measure, but the PRD majority in Mexico City made the opposition of the nation's top two political forces irrelevant. Unless I'm mistaken, Mexico City is now the second entity in the nation which permits gay unions, after Coahuila (a fact which always seems to go weirdly unmentioned in media coverage). In response, local church figures were up in arms, but the Vatican refused to comment, calling it a local issue.

The question now is whether this will inspire a political backlash in the vast majority of the country where the PRD is a minority. That didn't happen after Coahuila legalized homosexual unions, but then again, Coahuila ain't Mexico City. The recent wave of abortion legislation being passed by state governments would seem to indicate that the ground is fertile for a gay marriage backlash, but I'm not convinced. Gay marriage provokes more indifference than does abortion. The reaction I see most often, even from people who are not personally comfortable with homosexuality, is, Why should I care about stuff in which no one gets hurt and that doesn't affect me? Although the added provision that gay married couples can adopt children could, for some, throw a monkey wrench into that line of thinking.


An armed group killed four civilians in Tabasco yesterday, all of them family members (including the mother) of the marine who was killed in the operation that resulted in the death of Arturo Beltrán Leyva last week. They were attacked while in their house.

Update: Calderón called the attack "cowardly".

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Best Soccer Team in the World

After polling 50,000 professional soccer players around the world, Fifa says the following 11 constitute the best imaginable team on the globe today: Iker Casillas in goal; Dani Alvés, John Terry, Nemanja Vidic, and Patrice Evra in the back; Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, and Steven Gerrard at midfield; and Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Fernando Torres up front.

  • On such a short list it's impossible not to snub worthy players, but you'd think one could find room for Puyol and either Kaká or Robinho.
  • You may have noticed more than a third of these players are Spanish, which is makes sense, given the fact that they've lost once in their past thirty-odd games, and are the top-ranked team in the world.
  • The lack of Brazilian midfielders and strikers is surprising (see above). This doesn't, we should point out, reflect a lack of talent; with Robinho, Kaká, and Luis Fabiano, they are loaded as ever with world-class offensive players.
  • It's kind of jarring to see zero Italians and Germans on the list. The two nations have tallied a run to the semis, the final, and the trophy over the past two Cups, and yet, not a one can crack the starting eleven.

American-Trained Mexican Drug Warriors Who Are Impervious to Million-Dollar Bribes*

As it did with the founders of the Zetas (but hopefully with better results), the US is training a group of Mexican drug dogs, with 50 canine teams to be in place by January. But before you get excited about the potential of this training to change the way we fight drug traffickers, according to the article, the Mexican Defense Secretariat already has a twenty-year-old, world-class dog training program, with more than 4,000 expert sniffers operating on national soil.

*Of course, you can flip them for half a flank steak.

Carstens's Challenges

Pablo López Sarabia, an economics professor from the illustrious Tec de Monterrey (State of Mexico campus), on some of the less-speculated-upon challenges facing Guillermo Ortiz's successor:
The new governor of the Bank of Mexico's other challenges will be to deepen transparency and accountability in the Government Conference, making public the minutes of each of their meetings, with the goal of investors and analysts having greater tools related to the monetary policy strategies that will be implemented. The push toward competition and the reduction of commissions charged by the banking sector is no small task, with the spread between the active (credit) and passive (savings) interest rates continues to be among the largest in the world, coming to levels of about 4,000 basis points.

The reduction in the rating of Mexico's sovereign debt and the inflationary pressures that the 2010 fiscal package will cause, thanks to the IVA and telecom tax increases, as well as the rises in the price of gasoline, electricity, and propane will test the new Banxico governor's ability to move interest rates in the direction that guarantees the stability of the peso with full autonomy, without compromising the economic recovery and the level of employment desired by the president and above all society.

Criticizing Nafta

Via Richard, this is an interesting and skeptical take on Nafta, based on a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace study of Mexico's economic performance from 1992 to 2007. Analyzing the effects of Nafta starting in 1992 is odd, since the agreement didn't come into effect until two years later. Also, if you use per capita growth, the 1994-1995 Mexico economic crisis, which wasn't caused by Nafta, will also make the impact look worse. At the same time, were you to study per capita growth from 1996-2009 instead of 1992-2007, I seriously doubt it would turn Nafta into a smashing success.

Nafta's negative impact on Mexico's rural sector (exacerbated by the government's failure to plan for it) is pretty well accepted in Mexico, and is alluded to here:
American jobs did move south, particularly into the export sector. The growth in services — new supermarkets, banks, tourism — also created jobs. But overall, Mexico was unable to create enough jobs to make up for all the jobs lost because of competition from imports, particularly purchases of subsidized grains from the United States.
But the biggest criticism isn't of Nafta per se but of the economic policies that went with it:
The authors conclude that “Mexico locked into place a set of economic policies that collectively produced disappointing results.” Mexico — and other countries seeking Nafta-style trade agreements with the United States — should reframe policies in terms of broader pro-growth strategies that channel the benefits from trade into other parts of the economy, the authors write.

Reform Timetable, Reform Reaction

The Mexican Congress is planning to take up fiscal reform and political reform in February, with the goal of passing both by April.

For those of us who think reelection in Mexico is a good idea, this is disheartening (though not unexpected): 57 percent of respondents to an Excélsior poll are against the idea of mayoral reelection, compared to 60 who disapprove for legislators. Other portions of the proposal are widely endorsed: 93 percent favor the reduction in the size of the Congress, 68 percent like the president's line-item veto on budget issues, 74 percent support allowing the Supreme Court to propose laws, and 87 percent back permitting citizens to do so. And here's why reform has such wide backing (at least in part): 56 percent are somewhat or entirely dissatisfied with the state of Mexican democracy, an 11 point jump since 2000. (Although, aside from hopeless optimists, who isn't at least somewhat dissatisfied with the fruits of democracy?)

Yet More on Beltrán Leyva

The capo was buried in Sinaloa yesterday, in a cemetery that houses the remains of other deceased drug traffickers, and with army troops watching over the proceedings. The operations against his network in Morelos continue, with one of his operators arrested and a sizeable arsenal confiscated over the weekend. And more on the case in English here and here (although avoid these if graphic pictures bother you).

Quite a Number

Chris Johnson's last couple of games have been more workmanlike than what we saw in the first half of the season: 27 carries for 113 yards against Indy, 28 for 117 against the Rams, and 29 for 104 yesterday against Miami. Nonetheless, the following is pretty amazing: as in most statistics, the NFL runners tend to group together regarding the number of runs they've registered of 20 or more yards. You have eight guys who've had four this year, three who've had five, three with six, four who've had seven, two with eight, one with nine, three with ten, and one more who has raced for 20-plus yards eleven times. Together, they account for 25 of the first 26 positions. And then, outlier of outliers, you have Johnson with 20, nearly double anyone else. For a little bit of perspective, LaDanian Tomlinson, in his historic 2006 campaign, tallied only 12 such runs.


The three major parties in Mexico have united behind their rejection of the US attaching strings to the aid provided under Mérida, something they accuse their neighbor of surreptitiously doing. The PRD's Teresa del Carmen Incháustegui also complains that the Mexican Congress is in the dark about what is going on:
We still don't know anything about those funds, the Chamber of Deputies hasn't received information about that. I think there must be a visit so that we are informed about how it's working.
If the relevant legislators in Mexico don't have a clue what is going on, what hope does the public have of staying informed? I'm not sure how Plan Colombia compares as far as transparency in spending, but this confusion doesn't seem to be a natural, inevitable part of an aid package.

Hating on Lionel

Evidently, some Argentine fans aren't happy with their country's best footballer, as his goal in the 110th minute in the final of the World Cup of Clubs vaulted Barca past the Argentine club Estudiantes. As you can see in the photo accompanying the article linked above, some fans have taken to tossing slurs regarding his sexual orientation on building walls, while a radio station said he is not an Argentine.

The undercurrent of this outrage is that Messi plays a lot better for Barca than for the national team, but I can't imagine that this sort of stuff will motivate him to play a lot better.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Random Immigration Stats

In the past year, despite the unfavorable economic conditions in both nations, more than 1.3 million Mexicans have solicited tourist or immigrant visas to the US.

Most of the above are tourist visas, but the following shows why so many Mexicans are eager to cross over, legally or otherwise: according to a campesino group here in Mexico, the average rural day worker would earn 8 times as much by taking his skills to the US.

Most Unconvincing MVP Push Ever Recorded

A bunch of fans (three, actually) at the San Diego game are waving a giant "M", "V", and "P" for Philip Rivers. I wonder if there is a "fifth" and a "place" offscreen, because giving him the nod above Favre, Manning, or Brees would be asinine at this point. Going in to today's game, Rivers was third in rating (Brees and Favre were above him, Manning a couple points beneath), seventh in yards per game (Brees and Manning in front), tenth in TDs (Brees, Manning, and Favre all ahead of him), tenth in completion percentage (behind all three), and leading a thirteenth-ranked offense in yards per game (behind all three) on a soon-to-be 11-3 team (a worse record than each of the teams led by the three above-mentioned QBs).

Positive Sign

Bajo Reserva sees a lot of potential in the type of operation that led to Arturo Beltrán Leyva's death:
The characteristics of the operation in which Arturo Beltrán Leyva, the Boss of Bosses, was eventually done in turns out to be, in their details, a real example of what can be and should be done. It wasn't about a simple exchange of bullets, but rather a true labor of intelligence. The strike was surgical and, in contrast to what goes on in Ciudad Juárez (for example), it gives us assurance that things can be done differently and much more effectively. The navy located and took apart at least four security cells, that network of protection, corruption, and impunity that allowed the capo's empire to take root in Morelos. Among the informants were soldiers, municipal and ministerial police, aside from an extensive network of hit man and lookouts. With all this the navy was able to deliver one of the hardest blows against organized crime. Windows of hope are opened.
Bajo Reserva is usually quite skeptical of Calderón, not unfairly so, but in the way you'd expect from a crusty bunch of reporters. The reaction here is more positive than anything I remember reading from them in recent months.

Continuing Militarization

Torreón's new police chief will be a retired general, which is all the rage both in the Laguna and in Mexico at large. The idea that retired generals are more likely to be honest and competent than those who have come up through the police ranks makes some sense, but I'd be interested to see if that has translated into tangible improvements, either in public security or police competency and honesty.

Reaction from the Famous Mayor of San Pedro

Amid the ongoing media blitz regarding the death of Arturo Beltrán Leyva, I was curious about the reaction of Mauricio Fernández, the mayor of the posh Monterrey suburb who was taped in June seemingly referring to a healthy working relationship between his team and the Beltrán Leyva organization. My search led me to the above photo, about which I still can't pin down a coherent reaction, despite spending a good seven minutes staring at it so far this morning.

Then I found this bit from the mayor:
As far as I'm concerned, this continues being a city of the Beltrán Leyvas, as [the media] asked me I do think they continue selling, that's what we are trying to attack, hitting them in the places where we learn that drugs are sold, which are the most public, discos and night clubs.

And that's going to continue, one of the heads died but that doesn't mean that the organization is extinct or anything like that, there are thousands and thousands that work for them, as far as I'm concerned nothing has changed.
That doesn't sound like the customary triumphal tone from a politician, which, if it weren't replaced by cynical disingenuousness, would be refreshing. Also, his conspicuous emphasis on attacking the sale of drugs (as opposed to their shipment) goes hand in hand with what he was saying on the tapes that emerged in June, essentially: Narcos, don't sell to Mexicans, don't kidnap, and we can get along just fine.

This exchange was included in the same article:
"A little while ago a group from the La Familia tried to come into town, we've already persuaded them to go, but they tried to enter San Pedro."

He was asked if these comments were just an unfounded invention, to which he responded with an overwhelming no.

"It's real, there are lots of things I can't make known, but we're working on this, and the Family tried to enter."

"How did you convince them not to?"

"I have good convincers for persuading people that this work in San Pedro is not accepted."

"With what actions?"

"With the actions that you can imagine, we simply convinced them not to work in San Pedro."

"Did you do so through the federal government?"

"No, we work at every level, our own, state, and federal. The reality is that you have to have information, if not you go crazy. Here and there we are looking for information."
He sounds like the villain from L.A. Confidential.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Proposal Worth Considering

In response to the recent spate of reports on human rights violations committed by the Mexican military, the PRD's Senate bloc is pushing a plan to create an autonomous military ombudsman.

If you had to choose between an armed forces human rights czar and the removal of the military exemption from civil trials for crimes committed in uniform, the second is probably preferable. But this might be a more realistic middle road, and in any event the two goals aren't mutually exclusive.

More Money (But Just a Bit) for Those Who Most Need It

Mexico's minimum wage is on its way up, jumping about 5 percent to between 54 and 57 pesos per day, depending on the region. That's just over $4 for an entire workday for the poorest earners in the formal economy, or one eighteenth of what one would earn during a ten-hour minimum-wage workday in the US.

People often describe Mexico as being one quarter or one fifth as rich as the US, based on earnings per capita. That's a somewhat deceptive stat. The rich in Mexico earn more than a quarter of what their American counterparts do, and I'd say the upper middle class typically does as well. But the poorest earn much less than that fraction.

Forty Days in the Can

The musicians playing at a party on December 11 where Édgar Valdés and Arturo Beltrán Leyva were hanging out and then almost caught have been sent to jail under the arraigo for 40 days, while they are investigated. Among the group are Grammy-winner Ramón Ayala. (The previous compound modifier has been frequently used to presumably provide Ayala with some measure of stature; however, the Grammys being what they are, it occurs to me that it does no such thing.)

I've heard some people respond approvingly, along the lines of, "Serves him right, he shouldn't act like he doesn't know who's paying him." As much as I think Mexico should be doing more to isolate organized crime from the legitimate economy, tossing musicians in jail is something else altogether. (I'm assuming Ayala and company don't have a deeper business relationship with the men for whom they were playing.) Encouraging businessmen to know their associates well and avoid those with criminal associations might impose some difficulties on those affected, but it provides a concrete benefit to the nation as a whole. In contrast, there is no broader salutary effect when musicians are scared off of doing narco-parties.

More broadly, the lack of continued debate about the 40-day arraigo provision is unfortunate. The practice hasn't inspired much backlash, although it occasionally seems to be abused. About a year ago, 22-year-old Laura Zúñiga, despite having no criminal background, was sent to jail for almost 40 days because she was caught in the company of alleged drug traffickers. Of course, running around with these guys was not a good idea, and the government has the obligation to determine what she was up to, but 40 days? That seems entirely unnecessary. (More here.) That doesn't make the arraigo a bad idea, but the government has not been pushed to defend the provision, for instance by offering examples of when the 40 days turned out to be vital to obtaining a conviction. But even if one accepts the need for the arraigo, greater vigilance in condemning its excesses would be welcome.

Governmental Reaction to Beltrán Leyva's Death

Arturo Chávez Chávez predicts that the Arturo Beltrán Leyva's death will likely bring more violence, as erstwhile competitors, partners, and subordinates try to fill the space he occupied. That is certainly logical, but I don't think it's necessarily a given. Osiel Cárdenas's extradition didn't lead to a lot of bloodshed due to people in Tamaulipas trying to take his place, although I've read he was immensely concerned about that inevitability, and tried to set things up so there would be a smooth transition once he was out of the picture. In any event, outbreaks of violence are certainly a good bet, but the drug trade confounds logic on a regular basis.

Colombia's National Police boss says that his death will weaken the nexus between Colombian and Mexican traffickers. It's virtually impossible to know what will be the impact of one end of that relationship disappearing, but I've read about something similar happening, with, once more, Osiel Cárdenas. The Zetas that took over didn't have the relationship with Cárdenas's Colombian suppliers, the theory goes, so they branched out into other enterprises like kidnapping and extortion, which was really bad news for Mexican society.

Of course, these suppositions are built on threads of logic rather than solid facts, so a grain of salt is in order.

Some Optimism

I believe I've alluded to this before, but it's always struck me how (apologies for the upcoming generalization; I assure you that it's unavoidable) Mexicans' optimism and cynicism exist side by side. This is a bit simplistic, but many seem to think all politicians are dirty and Mexico will never make the developed world, but they don't feel like the world is coming to an end and have no hope for improvement. This dichotomy naturally leads to polling schizophrenia. On the one hand, Mitofsky reveals a Mexico all but apoplectic about the economy and crime, with overwhelmingly negative right track/wrong track figures. On the other, the Pew Global Attitudes Project shows Mexicans with a relatively high degree of understanding And neither poll strikes me as wrong or misleading.

Anyway, these Imagen polls offer evidence of the optimistic Mexico: more than 75 percent of respondents said they could view 2010 as a positive year, and 64 percent said they were ending 2009 on a good note.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mexico's Abortion Debate

Exodus's own Alexis Okeowo checks in from Mexico City with a note on the growing polarization due to the abortion debate. To my immense satisfaction, the piece dings Beatriz Paredes. Here's the intro:
Communities are split by the wedge of abortion rights, with pro-choice and anti-abortion doctors working tensely together in the same public hospitals and protesters yelling outside: It's a familiar image in the United States, but lately abortion has polarized another country perhaps even more. Just two years after Mexico City became the first major Latin American capital to legalize it, abortion has become a flashpoint for social conflict throughout the country. Today, a wave of anti-abortion legislation is moving across Mexico's states and towns, and both abortion-rights and anti-abortion activists and legislators are preparing for full-blown war.

As in the United States, the conflict is as much about politics as it is about abortion. Mexican political parties here have found that the touchy social topic is a useful polarizer -- one that fires up voters on both sides. With the presidential election coming up in 2012, parties are already trying to line up fervent supporters. So recently, the moderate Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has joined the ruling conservative National Action Party (PAN) in backing anti-abortion reforms. The PRI's decision is a major political gamble. A party from the center that was in power for decades before being unseated by PAN presidents Vicente Fox in 2000 and Felipe Calderón in 2006, the PRI is betting that abortion might just be the issue that could attract just enough conservative voters to bulk up its usual moderate core, snag PAN's base -- and repay Calderón the electoral favor.

More on Beltrán Leyva

Here's a piece from me, and a long post from Michael Reynolds.

Fernández and the Mexico City, PRD Tea Leaves

Here's what Jorge Fernández Menéndez takes from the Ebrard-AMLO spat over Iztapalapa:

Marcelo, however, despite resisting the "instructions" from López, ended up carrying them out. I imagine that he did so for a pair of very significant reason, more than, as has been said, simple subordination. First, so as to not destroy the PRD's increasingly fragile internal unity. Ebrard wants to be a presidential candidate, but he doesn't have a supporting party behind him. A few days ago we said that the mayor is much better evaluated by voters than López Obrador, but, within his party, the latter continues controlling a good part of the different wings...


[S]ooner rather later Marcelo will have to go about constructing his own answers that focus more on the people than a few tribes that will only make him a candidate if it is unavoidable. That's why he must work toward the outside: inside, the hard-core PRD won't accept any other candidate but López, although that means they will continue swimming in the political margins and personal isolation. The style difference, the method of exercising power, even the administrative capacity of Ebrard, is far superior to his predecessor, but that's not what the tribes evaluate.

That independence should be accompanied by something more. Ebrard must show signs of authority and in the Batres case [the openly defiant member of Ebrard's cabinet] is paradigmatic in that respect. It's true that he has removed responsibilities and budget money, but the same group will manage 4 billion [presumably pesos, or about $3 billion] in Iztapalapa. We shouldn't forget that López Obrador's group thank that the Juanito case is the norm: the boss is the one who gives and takes no one can nor should they resist him, and they continue thinking that the government of Mexico City is theirs, they've only lent it out for six years.

Liking What It Sees

The El Universal editorial page is by no means particularly favorable to Calderón, which makes its endorsement of his political reform all the more striking. Here's the finale:
Mexico requires a more effective democracy and its citizens need to secure for ourselves better representation. This initiative is, without being stingy in our description, a line of hope along the horizon for Mexicans to transform our reality. The only way to kill the partidocracy is for the citizens to take over not the proposal but the discussion of the proposal.

Last Card of the Year

In what I believe is the last significant fight card of 2009, I like Humberto Soto to pull out a decision over Jesús Chávez (although an injury-induced stoppage of the latter is not out of the question), and I'll take Kelly Pavlik to fight through some early rust and win via mid-round KO.

As long as we're on boxing, this story from Larry Holmes, courtesy of Dan Rafael, is great:
I knew that I couldn't beat Mike Tyson. But again, Don King calls. I was off two years with my band, traveling around with Kool and the Gang, the Temptations, singing ding ding ding, you know? And drinking them Budweisers and stuff like that. And (a) knock on the door, Don King, 3 o'clock in the morning. 'Larry, open the door.' (I said), 'Well, what are you doing, man?' (King said), 'I want you to fight Mike Tyson.' (I said), 'You must be crazy. I can't beat Mike Tyson. I ain't did nothing for two years.' (King said). 'It's $3.5 million dollars.' I said, 'Well, come on in.' He said, 'But you got two months to get ready for the fight.' I have two months? I said, 'Man, two months?' He said, 'Well, you have $3.5 million.' And I said, 'I can't beat Mike Tyson in two months, man.' (King said), 'Here is $500,000 cash.' I said, 'OK.'

Inadvertent Real Estate Insight

The following detail was presumably included to demonstrate the immense wealth of Arturo Beltrán Leyva:
The marines entered the complex and each one of the residences in the towers was searched. The residents were concentrated in a gymnasium located in the same complex, which has pools and whose apartments, the smalles of which measures 136 meters squared, has a minimum value of 3 million pesos.
Three million pesos is roughly $250,000, which I believe would be relatively cheap for most American cities, even after the explosion of the real estate bubble. Maybe that's why the Mexican traffickers have so much money to throw around corrupting officials: all their super-sweet pads cost just a few peanuts.

Year in Review

Sean Goforth on a not-so-hot year for Mexico.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another Female Politician on Abortion

Ruth Zavaleta's recent column on the subject was much more honest and direct than the laughable effort from Beatriz Paredes a few weeks ago. Highlights:
Let's leave behind one premise: no woman wishes and is happy about submitting her body and conscience to an unfavorable action. On the one hand, a clandestine abortion implies risks of health effects, including fatal ones; on the other, the social and spiritual culture that we have seems to turn the woman into the victimizer. Any woman who goes to submit herself to an intervention to terminate a pregnancy is exercising her freedom and faces the intolerance of the world around her. But that woman who does wish to submit herself or has done so because she has been the victim of a rape will should only receive the understanding, the affection, and the sensitivity of the society, but all the attention that must be provided by a state that watches over the respect for and belief in the rules and norms of a democratic society.

We mustn't be mistaken, the conscience of the state, its understanding, is related to the established laws and with the public health of its citizens and the legalization of the interruption of a pregnancy shouldn't change the setting of the discussion: it's an issue of public health that the state must deal with, whether it wants to or not, because, as with cancer and diabetes, it's a cause of deterioration of the health of the population. It's an obligation for the state to deal with public health, leaving other institutions (churches) to deal with the spiritual health --their version of it-- of their parishioners.


The state and its institutions are must be concerned about all harm that its citizens suffer or that are generated by any act of government. As evidenced, this also implies acts of admission. The freedom of their citizens is indispensable for the state to guarantee their legitimacy. A double standard, a double vision to evaluate the role of the woman and her rights, conquered over the course of the centuries, only further increases the blows of poverty and social inequality in our country.

That's certainly not the last word on the issue, and it seems that for the time being, at least, Zavaleta's voice will remain among the political minority, but it's nonetheless spiriting to hear a politician adopt the pro-choice point of view with some clarity and honesty.

Calderón on Beltrán Leyva

Here are the president's remarks from Copenhagen on the death of Beltrán Leyva:
After an intense confrontation between alleged criminals from the criminal organization of the Beltrán Leyva cartel and infantrymen from the Mexican Navy's Marines, tonight Arturo Beltrán Leyva, leader of the cartel of Sinaloa, was killed.

This operation was carried out after an intense intelligence job completed by Mexican Navy personnel, which culminated in a confrontation in the "Altitudes" neighborhood in the city of Cuernavaca, Morelos.

Four more gunmen were killed, among them one who committed suicide after seeing himself surrounded by the agency's personnel.

Three members of the Mexican Navy were also wounded by grenade attacks, and are being taken to Mexico City for medical attention, but without life-threatening injuries.
Not a lot to say, other than a) the fact that Calderón is commenting on it at all must mean that they are pretty sure that it is in fact Arturo Beltrán Leyva, and; b) lots of passive voice there Felipe! Get on your speech writers about that.

China in the Neighborhood

Javier Santiso (who I always feel obliged to add is the author of a very insightful book about modern developmentin Latin America) on China and Latin America:
The countries and regions that know how to capture this potential will come out ahead with the rise of China. Latin America, with its strong agricultural capacity and production of raw materials, is without a doubt an area that can come out ahead. Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, for example, with 28 percent, 21 percent, and 3 percent, respectively, of total world production. Likewise, Chile, Peru, and Mexico enjoy 29 percent, 11 percent, and 7 percent of the world copper reserves. Together, the region has at its disposal 50 percent of the total production or reserves in the world.

In the next decade China will be a source of luck by also a challenge for the region. Whatever happens or stops happening in the country will have major repercussions in Latin America. In 2009 we are seeing (in this case in a positive way): while Mexico is suffering a historic drop in its GDP, due in large part to its proximity to the United States, the epicenter of the global crisis, Brazil has barely skipped a beat and in 2010 will already be meeting its potential with almost 5 percent growth, according to the forecasts of the OECD.

Which is to say, Brazil --also due partly to great diversification of its exports to Asia and a rebound in the prices of raw materials, oil, iron ore, or soy-- is experiencing the drive from Chinese demand. A symbol of the closeness between Brazil and China are businesses like Vale, one of the biggest producers of minerals in the world and whose income and sales have come almost 45 percent from the Chinese market in 2009, or like Petrobras, which just concluded a gigantic agreement for $10 billion with Chinese partners.

In the future the adjustments in the rise or fall in the Chinese GDP won't be indifferent for region. Although the old oft-used saying is, when the US sneezes, Latin America gets a cold, this will also be true for China: when Beijing accelerates or slows the pace of its growth, the region will also perceive the winds and tides of the Far East.

Pascual on the Army

Carlos Pascual yesterday offered rhetorical support for the use of the military in domestic security tasks, and encouraged Mexico not to isolate the army in its tasks. (He was commenting before the death of Arturo Beltrán Leyva in a shootout with Marines.) That comment probably strikes some as an undue interference on domestic policy from a foreign ambassador (and indeed struck me as such at first), but, rightly or wrongly, the use of the Mexican military is a central pillar of the binational drug strategy. As long as that remains the case and the US remains a big sponsor of the Mexican drug strategy, the ambassador has the obligation as well as the right to defend the strategy in broad terms.

Another thing about Pascual: he is the second consecutive Latino to be sent to Mexico, and there has long seemed to exist a vague tendency to fill the ranks of the Western Hemisphere-focused areas of the State Department with people who have Spanish last names. I always wonder how Mexicans (and other nations' citizens) feel about that. I can't imagine they have a greater affinity for Pascual because of his Cuban heritage than they had for Jeff Davidow.

The News Today

Not a big surprise, but Arturo Beltrán Leyva is everywhere today.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Huge News

Arturo Beltrán Leyva is dead, killed in a shootout with the Mexican military in Cuernavaca.


The US Treasury Department has frozen the American assets of two Mexicans associated with organized crime. The above article says that the US has has seized the accounts of 37 businesses or people because of their owner's connection to organized crime since 2000 under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.

Given the importance of gangs' financial networks to their ongoing viability, that strikes me as an obscenely low number. Of course, Mexico should be doing a lot more than the US on the issue of Mexican gangs, and unfortunately Mexico (characteristically) does not make public any sort of information along those lines (at least, not as far as I know). On the US end, we're talking about around four businesses a year. Without even trying particularly hard, I could probably point you to four money-laundering businesses a year in one city just based on rumor (which of course is not a high enough standard for seizing assets, but certainly could point a professional investigator in the right direction).

On the plus side, kudos to the law's sponsor (Carl Levin) for squeezing the word "kingpin" into federal law.

Calderón on the Climate

Calderón says that if the Copenhagen conference fails to deliverable a effective climate-change agreement, he will lead the charge once more in 2010 in the climate change summit in Mexico.

I can't imagine Calderón will actually be eager to impose any added pain on the world economy while in the midst of a very precarious recovery, and it's hard to imagine Mexico, home to roughly 1/60th of the world's population and economic production, will wind up a major voice on this issue. But this is nonetheless an interesting reflection of the differences between the American and Mexican right: the latter has a greater regard for science. I'd say across the board, but at the very least in terms of climate change.

Arce's Out

This has been rumored for a little while, but René Arce is leaving the PRD. More here.

Sick Cabinet

Fernando Gómez Mont has undergone gastric bypass surgery. I just read on Wikipedia that 2 percent of those who submit to such a surgery die within a month, which, if true, strikes me as rather dangerous. In any event, we wish for a speedy for the Interior Secretary.

Economic Doings

No surprise, but Carstens is in as the chief of Banxico, having been ratified yesterday by the Senate with 81 votes in favor, and 19 against.

Also, Standard and Poors lowered Mexico's debt rating, following a similar move from Fitch before Thanksgiving.

Parties' Reaction to the Reform Proposal

The PRD is contra, the PRI is on the fence, the PAN is pro. I'm talking only about the reaction to Calderón's political reform proposal, but in fact that's a nice, brief synopsis of the last three years in Mexican politics.

Rooms for the Federales

This weekend, a hotel in Lázaro Cárdenas where Federal Police troops were staying was attacked by gunmen, resulting in one death, two injuries, and the capture of two men. This in turn led to mayor of the city asking for the Federal Police not to stay in hotels, as it turns the establishment into a logical target for such activities.

Fair point. The Federal Police here in Torreón stay at one of two hotels, a Hampton Inn and a Fiesta Inn. When they are in town, they have a dozen or so trucks parked out front of their hotel, and men with automatic rifles slung over their shoulders walk around the lobby and parking lot at all hours of the day. Aside from being a logical target for gunmen that puts civilians in harm's way, the climate created by the presence of dozens of often ski-masked troops is not one of fun in the desert sun, but rather looming death. Which of course is not conducive to a successful hotel operation. It seems as though the Federal Police are expected to be the long-term answer to cities descending into violence, which means that dropping into towns where they have no permanent presence will be a basic part of their function. They should do as the army does and build makeshift barracks in abandoned buildings.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

No One Cares about Latin America

Matt Yglesias, recapping Obama's foreign policy:
But for all that, this has really been a year without a major international crisis. Russia hasn’t invaded any foreign countries. No terrorist attacks have struck the United States. The handling of the coup in Ecuador was, I think, quite deft but this was hardly a major event in the scheme of things.
I'm not above mini mental meltdowns, but that's pretty bad from a guy who's written a book about foreign policy.

Four Months On

One hundred twenty-five days after Mexico's cell-phone registration drive has begun, only 30 percent of the phones in the nation are registered. I'd guess that the overwhelming majority of those registered phones are new (the registration is mandatory for new phones), and an almost equally overwhelming majority of those with old phones haven't ever considered registering their number, wouldn't know how to do so in any event, and in many cases haven't heard anything about the cell-phone database. The registry strikes me as a somewhat unsettling idea, but more striking than the concept in and of itself has been the absolute lack of sustained publicity and explanation from the government.

At Mexidata

Lot's of original stuff at Mexidata this week: Here's a piece of mine about Calderón's first-half mistakes (inspired by this column), Sylvia Longmire on the safer parts of Mexico, Jerry Brewer on terror and Mexico's gangs, Samuel Logan on American teens working for Mexican gangs, George Baker on the enduring significance of a famous phrase in Mexican history, and Steve Dryden on the Italian influence on Mexican wine.

Specifics on the Political Reform

Calderón's political reform proposal is in; here are the ten points (paraphrased):
1) Reelection of local legislators and mayors

2) Reelection of the national Congress

3) A reduction in the size of both houses of Congress, from 128 to 96 legislators in the Senate, and 500 to 400 in the Chamber of Deputies

4) A minimum of 4 percent for political parties to maintain their registration before the IFE (it had been 2 percent)

5) The proposal of laws by private citizens

6) Independent candidacies for office

7) A second round in presidential races in which no one reaches 50 percent

8) The proposal of laws by the Supreme Court

9) The use of popular referenda on proposed constitutional amendments in cases where Congress refuses to take up the matter

10) A modified veto
As far as the last one, the language is a bit confusing, but I believe it's a line-item veto for budget bills. With the caveat that I just read this for the first time, and the devil is as ever in the details, here are some initial thoughts: the proposal of laws by citizens seems like a gimmick that has the potential to turn into a circus. The 4 percent minimum seems fair, especially when coupled with the long-overdue protection of independent candidacies. The second round of presidential voting will hopefully bring a sense of legitimacy to three-way presidential elections that is absent today, although I'm not as convinced that a lack of legitimacy is as big a problem for Mexican presidents as some argue that it is. Selfishly speaking, the second round will also provide followers of Mexican politics with more fodder. I'm a fan of reelection, and very skeptical about the inherent improvement of a smaller legislature. (There's some very good reading on that subject here.) The Supreme Court being able to propose laws is intriguing (are there other nations where this is part of the system?), but I wonder if, between the Court's investigative functions and its law-making powers, are too many democratic chores being concentrated in a mere eleven people? Also, as a child of American politics, I feel compelled to add: Activist judges! Activist judges! Activist judges!

That's all for now.

Bad, Though Not Unexpected, News for Mexican Tourism

International tourists visiting Mexico's hot spots are fewer day-by-day; according to the Excélsior, Mexico has now seen 14 consecutive months of declining revenues from foreign visitors. From the beginning of November '08 through October of this year, revenues are down 9.5 percent, with a combination of swine flu, economic, and security worries scaring tourists off faster than a cheap peso can entice them.


Two days later, congratulations to Monterrey for a worthy championship run. (Background here and here.) It was fitting that Suazo and De Nigris both figured on the score sheet in the final: De Nigris headed home a perfectly placed cross from Suazo in the 54th, and Suazo punched home the coffin-nail in injury time.

The revelation of the match: Suazo is tubby! I can't find a picture, but he disrobed after the final goal, and he looks a bit more like Cris Arreola than one would want from a forward. No matter; Atlético de Madrid is showing interest in the Chileno.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Interpreting Calderón's Decline

More here.

"The Fall of Mexico" and Calderón's Argumentative Shortcomings

Leo Zuckermann doesn't think too much of the recent Atlantic piece "The Fall of Mexico":
Caputo's article has many errors of journalistic practice. It is based on few sources, all of them critical of the government. There's not one interview with official sources. In particular, the vision of the army is missing. It is, in summary, a biased vision. The article, nevertheless, is symptomatic of a certain narrative that has begun to circulate about the war against organized crime. The narrative is of a country in which there's been a military coup so that the military controls drug traffic; where there is a deaf, dumb, and blind citizenry that tolerates social clean-ups.

I, of course, don't believe this narrative. But it's another demonstration of the natural deterioration of a three-year war that has left 14,000 deaths. The government should be worried about and occupied by this issue. It has to answer the various questions with serious arguments, not only TV spots or patriotic discourses from the president. There's a great deal in play: the perception that the Mexican state could be failing.
The second paragraph makes a good point. Calderón's opponents can rightly be dinged for their reliance on generalized rhetoric and a lack of specificity in their arguments, but the same criticism is just as true for Calderón. I'm sympathetic to the government's arguments that a frontal attack on firmly entrenched criminal gangs was needed, but Calderón's team hasn't offered much detail about exactly how their strategy will pay dividends. I'd like to hear Calderón articulate what Mexican will look like, if everything goes according to plan, in five, ten, even fifteen years from now. The whole security approach has an ad-hoc feel to it sometimes, which is really dangerous even if you think their instincts are correct.

Polling, Commentary on the Cabinet Changes

The Mexican public isn't crazy about the idea of the Carstens replacing Guillermo Ortiz at Banxico. According to a poll published in Excélsior this morning, more than half preferred that Ortiz stayed put. Fifty-six percent worried that Carstens would continue following Calderón's instructions after the switch. At the same time, these pieces of info make the proverbial grain of salt grow a bit: only half of the people polled were aware of Carstens being named the new Banxico chief, and only a third knew who Ortiz was.

Relatedly, here was what Macario Schettino had to say last week:
As part of the political struggle surrounding the bank, the idea has been pushed that if Carstens goes to the Bank, this will imply a subordination of that institution to the president. Nonsense. The same thing happened at the end of the Zedillo administration, Ortiz left Finance to go to the bank, and the autonomy has been celebrated. I don't see why anything different will occur. As it happens, a few days ago the rumorologists were saying that Carstens had a decreasingly agreeable relationship with the president. And soon enough now they say Carstens will be his subordinate. If the topic is experience, or potential capacity, well Secretary Carstens doesn't have any problem. In summary, it's a good selection (or better yet, proposal, until the Senate ratifies him, as it should).
Also, in an interview this morning, Cordero listed getting banks to extend credit more readily as a primary goal. On that count, sounds like he has his priorities straight.

The Left in 2012

José Antonio Crespo weighs the options for the left in 2012:
...I imagine three basic scenarios: 1) AMLO becomes the only candidate for the left --at the margin of his popularity-- but with little chance of attracting sufficient moderate voters to win; 2) Before AMLO's refusal to cede the candidacy, there is a rupture in teh left, which presents two candidates and guarantees its defeat; 3) AMLO cedes the candidacy to a figure more acceptable and trustworthy for the moderate electorate and allows the left to become a real governing option. That seems to be Marcelo Ebrard's bet, judging from how he handled the Juanito case. The most likely scenario, however, seems to me to be the first.

Fixing Blame

This post from Matt Yglesias about liberals pointing fingers at Obama is equally true for Calderón and Mexico (though not because of individual congressmen, but rather opposition parties). Here's a relevant portion:
The implicit theory of political change here, that pivotal members of congress undermine reform proposals because of “the White House’s refusal to push for real reform” is just wrong. That’s not how things work. The fact of the matter is that Matt Taibbi is more liberal than I am, and I am more liberal than Larry Summers is, but Larry Summers is more liberal than Ben Nelson is. Replacing Summers with me, or with Taibbi, doesn’t change the fact that the only bills that pass the Senate are the bills that Ben Nelson votes for.

Applying this logic further south, Calderón may be the one who will be remembered as the president whose reforms didn't go far enough to make much of an impact, but as a practical matter of identifying the root of the problem right now, it's not simply because Calderón didn't push hard enough, as Leo Zuckermann has argued. It's because he doesn't enjoy a legislative majority, and the PRI wasn't interested in a thorough energy reform, or a deep fiscal reform, or what have you.

Of course, that's not universally true; on some reform issues, the blame starts with the PAN.

Fun Piece

Via Boz, Marc Lacey takes a look at all of the narco-rides at an army impound lot. Highlights:
Drug dealers are not all work and no play, which is clear from the motorcycle section of the lot. There are custom-made choppers with impossibly long front ends, a handmade bike retrofitted with an engine pulled from a pickup and a ghastly black machine in which the handlebars are made to resemble bones.

Classic cars are popular, including a refurbished Chevy painted like a Chicago police car from the Al Capone days.

The devious nature of the traffickers can be seen in some of the weaponry they install, which General Solórzano suspects is done in their own chop shops. Traffickers put a turret in one truck, allowing them to raise a machine gun through the roof while remaining safely inside a bulletproof chamber below.

Carstens and Cordero

I have a piece up about Calderón's cabinet changes at World Politics Review. Because of the style and placement of the photo accompanying the piece, doesn't it kind of look as though I am Agustín Carstens?

Salt in the Wounds

Yesterday, El Universal dedicated a long article, with a front-page teaser, to reminding readers that nine years ago this week the Supreme Court set about placing W. in the White House. Personally, I didn't need that reminder. I'll now go cancel my subscription.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Couple of Drops in the Ocean

According to Mexican authorities, security agencies have confiscated 20 tons of cocaine this year. Roughly 300 tons of cocaine are consumed in the US every year, somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of which comes through Mexico. Taking 240 tons as an estimate, that means despite all of Felipe Calderón's "historic" efforts to attack the drug trade, the unprecedented cooperation between American and Mexican authorities, around 7 percent of the cocaine traveling through Mexico has been seized this year (even less when you take into account the local cocaine market). A more concise, irrefutable argument against supply-side drug enforcement is scarcely imaginable.

Although I hasten to add that I don't think that Calderón's crime strategy, whatever your opinion of it, is fairly encapsulated by that piece of data.

Thieving Crude

Theft of oil by organized crime has been a persistent little story in the Mexican media over the last year or so, and has now bubbled up into the American media:
Drug traffickers employing high-tech drills, miles of rubber hose and a fleet of stolen tanker trucks have siphoned more than $1 billion worth of oil from Mexico's pipelines over the past two years, in a vast and audacious conspiracy that is bleeding the national treasury, according to U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials and the state-run oil company.
The article labels these thieves as drug-traffickers, although we don't see them having any interaction with drugs at all. It's kind of funny how, even as criminal gangs have diversified a great deal over the past few years, "drug trafficker" remains the catchall label for Mexican criminals. Beyond the mere semantics of it, I'd be interested to see a pie chart of the Zetas' (who seem to have the broadest base of revenue) income sources.

The Past and the Present Connect

From Reuters, this factoid was unknown to me:
The son of a general who fought in the Mexican Revolution, [Guillermo] Ortiz, 61, became one of Latin America's most respected central bankers by attacking high inflation and bolstering Banco de Mexico's independence, clashing openly with President Felipe Calderon in 2008.

From Way Downtown

Wow, that's a deep goal.

As long as we're on the Premier League, with Liverpool's struggles, Van Persie's injuries, and improved performance from Aston Villa, Tottenham, and Man City, this season seems like a pretty good bet to be the first season 2005 that the top four weren't some combination of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United. (Everton squeezed by Liverpool that year.) If somehow neither team makes it into that group, I believe it would be the first time since 1996 that two of the above four remained outside the league's top four.

Boozing and Banking amid Bloodshed

If you want to start your Sunday with a detailed (for a blog post) examination of Mexico's financial institutions and beer producers during the Revolution, Noel Maurer's got what you're looking for.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Worst Column in the History of Time

Not only the worst, but the most dangerous. Inveterate baseball fan George Will slams Congress for considering a fix for the annual travesty known as the BCS, based on his belief in some abstract good known as "limited government". Whatever that means. Were I a Congressman, I'd be a spiteful Congressman, and I'd sponsor a bill to eliminate the league championship series, and have the winner of each pennant decided by an arm-wrestling match between Buster Olney and Karl Ravech. Take that, George!

Not So Hot on Cordero

I read some comments like this from the local press, but the Bloomberg write-up of the reaction to Cordero's replacing Carstens is rather harsh:
“Over the medium term, we acknowledge that Cordero’s nomination may bode ill for the passage of reforms, as Carstens’ ability to build consensus behind the scenes will be hard to match,” Barclays said in a report yesterday.


“Agustin was very good at negotiating with Congress,” Federico Kaune, who helps manage $8.5 billion in emerging market assets at Morgan Stanley in New York, said today in an interview. “I don’t know whether Cordero has that ability or not.”

The peso fell as much as 0.8 percent after Calderon announced his decision to replace Carstens. The currency declined 0.6 percent to 12.9704 per dollar at 10:34 a.m. New York time today.

“We believe Cordero is not the best man for the finance minister post: He is a PAN loyalist and will be a less effective negotiator with Congress,” Nick Chamie, head of emerging-market research at RBC Capital Markets, said yesterday.

The yield on Mexico’s benchmark bond rose 1 basis point, or 0.01 percentage point, to 8.14 percent. The price of the 10 percent security due in December 2024 fell 0.13 centavo to 116.04 centavos per peso, according to Banco Santander SA.

“Markets would prefer Carstens stay as finance minister, as the next year will be very challenging in terms of budgetary and overall economic policy,” said Win Thin, senior currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. in New York. “Such a move is not a good one for the peso.”
I wonder if the lack of confidence stems from Cordero being an empty slate, or if he has a specifically bad reputation for partisanship, or lack of political acumen, or prudence, or what have you. Also, I've read that the PRI had a lot of confidence in Carstens and he was Calderón's ideal interlocutor on all things fiscal, but people shouldn't go overboard in praising his consensus-building. That's certainly an admirable trait, but only insofar as it leads to good legislation with a broad base of support. The fiscal plan passed in 2007, for instance, was not sufficient, which is to say, the consensus that Carstens built was wrongheaded.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Embarrassing Oversight

This isn't the most significant illustration of Pemex's incompetence, but it is perhaps the funniest: the company neglected to register its trademark in the United States, and now a group from the Cayman Islands filled the vacuum and snapped up the US rights to the name, Pemex. Cayman-American Pemex is planning to sell gasoline to the US market under a logo that looks conspicuously like the Mexican national oil company. The copycat brand has no connection to the Mexican giant, but its spokesman was claiming to be a good friend of Roberto Madrazo.


Boxing Santa came a few weeks early, leaving us a veritable feast of enticing fisticuffs this weekend. To the picks!

Tonight, I like Jean Pascal over Adrian Diaconu by competitive decision in the rematch of a fight Pascal won by decision a few months ago. In Switzerland tomorrow, I have to take Vitali Klitschko over American Kevin Johnson, by a dominating decision. In Chicago, I'll take Juan Diaz over Paulie Malignaggi in a rematch of Diaz's controversial decision this summer. On the undercard, I like Victor Ortiz to bounce back from his KO loss to Marco Maidana with a knockout of Antonio Diaz. In California, I'll take Lamont Peterson in a mild upset of Tim Bradley by decision, though if Bradley fights as he was during the early rounds of the Campbell fight, he could certainly take it. I just think Peterson, though untested, is really, really good (I'm not sure he's decisively lost more than four or five rounds in his career), and will be too much for Bradley. On the undercard, I'll take Vic Darchinyan by stoppage of Tomás Rojas.

Lastly, shame on the Justice Department for not supporting the posthumous pardon of heavyweight champ Jack Johnson, who was convicted of taking a white woman across state lines in 1913, a violation of the Mann Act.

End of Show?

The Juanito saga would seem to be over, as he really has resigned, and Clara Brugada has taken over. More here.

Debating the Municipal Police

This is a somewhat old column from Ernesto López Portillo, but I think it gets at something really important:
The commission [on police reform] that the president is proposing should build that route [to more honest, effective police] and foster an unprecedented diagnostic based, focusing not only on the symptoms, but also on their causes. For example, the poor police training and the low salaries are only symptoms, while the causes are in the institutional design that produces these conditions. The proposed commission should make an "institutional genetic map" that explains the relationship between the police officer and the institution upon which he depends. This is critical. The commission should patiently study the institutions, because each police only does or doesn't do what his institution promotes or permits.

The police have been trapped in a contingency problem, which is a chronic sickness that affects a good part of the authorities and many citizens, and which consists of improvising supposed immediate solutions, with the argument that "there is no time to lose".

This is a wrong that takes advantage of the desperation of the average citizen, who supports what look like overwhelming measures to resolve insecurity.

I couldn't agree more. The best example of this is last year's National Agreement for Security, Justice, and Legality, which was promoted very heavily by the Imagen/Excélsior media chain, with a healthy dose of the "there's no time to lose" rhetoric. But if you look at the specific points of the agreement, they were not the product of a careful study of the causes, and were vague to the point of incoherence. For instance, take point 15: Strengthen the customs administration. That could mean anything at all. Or number 39: Favor speed in judicial processes. Again, so unspecific as to be virtually impossible to measure, and therefore useless. Similarly imprecise objectives are littered throughout the document. As I pointed out at the time, the flaws of the agreement stemmed from the hurriedness and lack of attention, which is to say, they were built into it. It was a list of complaints turned into a media show, not an honest, long-term attempt to improve the performance of Mexico's security agencies. As long as Mexico's political and media elites treat the nation's biggest problems in such a way, they will be hard to resolve.