Sunday, May 31, 2009

More on Corrupt Officials

First of all, a PAN candidate for deputy in Chihuahua (state) was arrested for bribery while he was serving as mayor of Chihuahua (city). Calderón and his team are eager to avoid charges of politicizing the fight against organized crime with the arrests of mostly opposition figures last week, and locking up a few dirty PAN figures is an easy way to fight back against that idea. Given that, now is not a good time to be a mid-level panista with some skeletons in the closet. 

Second of all, here's Liébano Sáenz on last week's arrests and the backlash from those who say it was all a show for the cameras:
Politics and public responsibility have a cycle that goes beyond the temporariness of the electoral calendar. The midterm and gubernatorial elections conclude on July 5th, but not the work that the parties, legislators, and authorities must carry out for the good of the country. It's understandable that passions and party rhetoric emerge in the zeal to win the vote or to improve the position of political forces; but there must be some sense to the limits. The elections are important, but the responsibilities are even more so. July 5th means a lot, but what comes after means far more. Criminal justice can't align itself to calendars, nor can it discriminate based on the political situation of the accused, its strength and only protection is the strict legality in the actions of the authorities. For the sake of justice, acknowledging that [the Michoacán arrests played out] as such is urgent. 

Telling Tales

According to the PGR, Chapo Guzmán is more of an emblematic leader of his group than an operational boss. That reminds me of a passage toward the end of De las Maras a las Zetas
When Benjamín Arellano Félix was arrested in Puebla, accompanied by only two bodyguards, he was asked why he was relatively unprotected. The leader explained something that was known, but on many occasions is not believed: from the moment that these capos become public figures, they leave a good part of the daily operation of their organizations in the hands of others. They continue charging their fee and they can take control for certain types of decisions, but they neither manage nor have a very deep knowledge of the details of the operation. 
PGR chief Eduardo Medino Mora also said that La Familia is the most dangerous mafia in the country. That strikes me as a very odd claim; the group isn't said to be operating much beyond Michoacán, and has only been around for five years or so. On the other hand, the Zetas and Sinaloa gangs not only have a presence in every state in Mexico, but they operate around the world, from South America to Africa to Europe. I imagine that the PGR thinks that talking up the danger and influence of the group will take some of the heat off of the arrests from last week, but, really, it's the opposite; making claims that contradict everything we've been hearing for the past several years undermines the government's credibility. 

North or South

This is two weeks old, but nonetheless interesting: Jorge Castañeda wonders if Mexico should subvert its sentimental and traditional connection with Latin America beneath its economic, geographic, and growing cultural links with the United States. He writes:
Where does the myth of Mexico's affinity for Latin America in the realm of foreign policy come from? Mexico has differed from the majority of the Latin American governments over the course of the last half century. A common argument is that the Mexican closeness doesn't reflect the relationship with the government but rather with the "peoples". Proof of this was the popularity Mexican icons like Cantinflas, Jorge Negrete, and El Chavo del Ocho in all of Latin America. In reality in makes more sense to put forward the true dilemma that Mexico faces today: on one hand, Mexico has its heart in Latin America, but on the other, it has its wallet and its head in the North.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Playing Nice, or Nicer

In the office of Fernando Gómez Mont, Beatriz Paredes, Germán Martínez, and Jesús Ortega promised to reduce the hostility in the campaigns ahead of the July elections. It seems it would have been just as effective for Gómez Mont to meet alone with Martínez and ask him to tone down his attacks, but whatever. We'll see how long this truce lasts.  

Update: Evidently not too long: in regard to an upcoming debate which may or may not include Ortega but will feature Paredes and Martínez, the PAN chief said that Ortega should be invited so that there's no crying later

Lincoln-Douglas for Latin America, Postponed

The Latin American intellectual event of the decade was all set: Hugo Chávez, on his turf, going to toe toe with Jorge Castañeda, Enrique Krauze, and Mario Vargas Llosa (who may or may not have played Big in Sex and the City). Now, via Boz, I see that Chávez, a la Ricardo Mayorga before the Perro Angulo fight, is backing out. Vargas Llosa, evidently still itching for a fight, today called Chávez and his ilk "troglodytes". 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Shabot on the Left

His take is a pessimistic one:
The rupture [between the moderate and extreme branches of the left] turned out to be inopportune because both sides needed each other to traverse the July election, but the level of confrontation, which grew with time, ended up further lowering the probable votes in favor of the PRD. 

An AMLO with one foot in the Party of the Aztec Sun and another in the Workers Party and Convergencia intensified the division and the internal war. The spat between Amalia García and Ricardo Monreal and the negative reaction of Ortega toward using López Obrador as a figure of support for perredista candidates in Mexico City demonstrates unequivocally that the truce between both groups, for electoral reasons, didn't work and that every political fief is willing to sacrifice the other, even if if sinks the party in the election on July 5th. 

Now more than ever, in the midst of a deep economic crisis, the position of a modern left is seen as a viable alternative for Mexico. 

The problem is that the left that we have is more bound to its priísta past and the absence of a project common to its distinct factions, than to the fundamental objective of constructing a more developed and more just Mexico. As such, the Mexican left races toward collective suicide, without anyone able to stop it. 

Changing Uniforms

One big change coming the day after the meeting the Agencia Federal de Investigación will soon disappear, to be replaced by the Policia Federal Ministerial. According to the government, the name change will be accompanied by some modifications in jurisdiction and procedure. Presumably, the agents will remain the same, and just the uniforms will change. Honestly, the changes don't sound like much, but maybe this is a case where the devil is in the details. The AFI came into being in 2001, said by some to be Mexico's answer to the FBI. It's an imperfect comparison, because the two agencies' functions differed, but needless to say the AFI fell a bit short of that objective.

Rain, Metaphorically

After a weeks-long dry spell, we finally have some decent fights this weekend.* I think Alfredo Angulo will drill Kermit Cintron much the way you would expect for a guy who fights exactly like Antonio Margarito, only with more size. Angulo will almost certainly take more shots on the button than he ever has before, and Cintron is a dangerous puncher, but I expect Angulo to wade through it and score a late-round knockout. In the headliner, I don't think Juan Urango has the skills or the athleticism to beat Andre Berto; the Floridian wins a comfortable unanimous decision.

Lastly, I hope and think that Ruslan Chagaev will score a convincing decision win against Nikolai Valuev, and in the process send Valuev out to pasture. At least for a little while, until the WBA anoints him super mandatory challenger emeritus, and forces us to gaze in his direction once more.

*It's been a great year for fights, so I shouldn't be complaining, but what can I say, boxing fans are a whiny bunch.

Role Reversal

The Washington Post comes out against Álvaro Uribe's third term:
Mr. Uribe said recently that he is conflicted about a reelection bid; while acknowledging that it might weaken democracy, he said he is worried about preserving his "democratic security" policy. But at least one worthy successor is available: Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos recently resigned and said he would run for president if Mr. Uribe did not. If he remains in office, Mr. Uribe would run the risk of undermining his own successes; some of his strongest supporters could turn against him, and the good relations he has enjoyed with the United States could come under strain. Better that the president choose to step down and give his country a last great gift, by strengthening the political system he has fought so hard to save.

More Michoacán Fallout

CNDH boss José Luis Soberanes says that Godoy should have been advised of the arrests in his state beforehand. I'm not sure why Soberanes' opinions on this are relevant (and nor is Gustavo Madero), but there it is.

Second, the government is saying that La Familia had been planning an "electoral assault" in various cities in Michoacán (including Morelia, Uruapan, Lázaro Cárdenas, and
Apatzingán, which I believe are the four biggest in the state). Evidently, the group had been funneling money into various candidates' campaigns, and after the elections they would presumably have controlled a good portion of the state's legislators. It's only natural that the federal government would be playing up this angle, but supposing there's even a hair of truth to it, all the more reason for not waiting a day longer to execute the arrests.

AI Report

The Mexico section in Amnesty International's annual report on human rights earned some coverage here, although I don't think there was anything previously unknown or surprising. Here's the summary:
Serious human rights violations committed by members of the military and police included unlawful killings, excessive use of force, torture and arbitrary detention. Several journalists were killed. Human rights defenders faced threats, fabricated criminal charges and unfair judicial proceedings. People protesting against economic development projects faced harassment. The Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to Mexico City’s law decriminalizing abortion. Reforms to the criminal justice system were initiated. Violence against women remained widespread.

Yesterday's News

Via the Mex Files, this story was splashed on the cover of yesterday's Jornada (translation is from Richard):

President Felipe Calderón and former Communications Secretary Luis Téllez, in discussions with Carlos Slim, offered to eliminate the legal restrictions under which Telefonos de Mexico (TelMex) is frozen out of the television market in exchange for allowing Slim’s competitors low-cost access to the telephone company’s infrastructure in the most profitable zones within Mexico. After a tense two-hour meeting at Los Pinos, Slim rejected the proposal, arguing that to accept it would destroy Telmex.

[As Lawrence Wright reports in The New Yorker (registration required) this week] last March Communications Secretary Téllez arranged a secret meeting between Slim and president Calderón. The now former Secretary confirmed the facts with Wright, saying that he had hoped the meeting could pave the way for an ambitious plan to open the telecommunications sector to competition. In return, Téllez told The New Yorker, the government was prepared to offer the industralist the one thing he hopelessly desires: television.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


The Council of Hemispheric Affairs is about as reliably leftist a voice on Latin America that you can find, so the praise that they heaped upon W's outgoing point man for the region, Thomas Shannon, is doubly meaningful:
Throughout his tenure, Shannon combined a sense of professionalism with a professed interest in not only encouraging democratic institutions throughout the region but also in promoting its economic development. From early on, Shannon rejected the confrontational and demagogic approach toward Latin American issues that all too often had been taken by his predecessors during the Reich-Noriega period, and he instead maintained a rational and non-ideological style of diplomacy. While U.S.-Latin America relations became increasingly tense during the past eight years, Shannon was uniquely able to reach out to a wide swath of leftist democratic hemispheric leaders by emphasizing areas of mutual interest when conflict seemed inevitable.


I tend to think that most attacks on the PAN as an authoritarian group of brownshirts are just a bit overheated, but every now and then, the PAN does something that makes it seem more like a cult than a political party. Like this: three party activists who had their picture taken with a PRI candidate for deputy in Hidalgo are on the verge of being kicked out of the party.

Department of Whining

I'm fairly certain I'll not hear a sillier complaint all week long:

Those of us who enjoy National Review's group blog, The Corner, were certain that the moment President Obama nominated a Hispanic justice for the Supreme Court, Cornerite Mark Krikorian would have something interesting to say. Yesterday, Krikorian wrote:

So, are we supposed to use the Spanish pronunciation, so-toe-my-OR, or the natural English pronunciation, SO-tuh-my-er, like Niedermeyer? The president pronounced it both ways, first in Spanish, then after several uses, lapsing into English. Though in the best "Pockiston" tradition, he also rolled his r's in Puerto Rico.

The "Pockiston" reference is to Obama's (correct) pronunciation of Pakistan, which apparently annoyed some people. Anyway, longtime Krikorian observers knew that there was no way he would let the issue rest there. Today, he has followed up with another post on the same topic. Tellingly titled 'It Sticks in My Craw', the post goes on to say:

Deferring to people's own pronunciation of their names should obviously be our first inclination, but there ought to be limits. Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English (which is why the president stopped doing it after the first time at his press conference), unlike my correspondent's simple preference for a monophthong over a diphthong, and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn't be giving in to.

This may seem like carping, but it's not. Part of our success in assimilation has been to leave whole areas of culture up to the individual, so that newcomers have whatever cuisine or religion or so on they want, limiting the demand for conformity to a smaller field than most other places would. But one of the areas where conformity is appropriate is how your new countrymen say your name, since that's not something the rest of us can just ignore, unlike what church you go to or what you eat for lunch. And there are basically two options — the newcomer adapts to us, or we adapt to him. And multiculturalism means there's a lot more of the latter going on than there should be.

Notice how this post's main intent is to completely contradict Krikorian's first sentence, which I have italicized. Apparently we are operating within very narrow limits. More generally, while everyone is allowed to focus on whatever issues they please, it is always worth paying attention to what things really bother people, what things "stick in their craw." As for what has made America a beacon of assimilation, I would offer up the thought that this pleasant reality is more the consequence of a relative dearth of people who think like Krikorian does. That, as opposed to disputes over pronunciation, is worth paying attention to.

The typical American pronunciation of my last name (Cork-wren) is one that Mexicans have a hard time wrapping their lips around, so I often introduce myself to Mexicans slightly differently (cor-cor-RAN). If I stick to the traditional iteration, I usually get blank looks or even good-natured admonishments to "speak clearly". It's kind of fun to see Mexicans struggle with my version of it (it usually comes out sounding vaguely like a sneeze), and I don't mind the subsequent teasing. However, any Mexican who jumped on a mass media soapbox to criticize me for pronouncing my last name as it was taught to me would be acting like an idiot. Carping over inconsequential irritations is one of the joys of life, but it is best done in the company of a few close friends, not before the eyes of millions.

Morning Meeting

Today the National Council of Public Security reunites to discuss the thirteen recommendations made last week by the Senate's Commission on Public Security. The group, which was reconfigured in January, will also analyze whether states are fulfilling their crime-fighting duties, and could conceivably withhold federal funding for states whose effort is deemed inadequate. This last element seems unwieldy and poorly thought out. It's like the old counter-narcotics certification battles in the US Congress, transplanted south. Let's say the government concludes that Michoacán is not doing its part (understandable!); withholding federal cash doesn't incentivize the changes in behavior the government would want. Morally dubious local officials would have all the more incentive to sell their services to drug gangs, and the odd honest cop would be all the more alone. Plus, the already insufficient federal-state cooperation would suffer even more, just as the US's relationship with Mexico and Colombia cooled every time congressmen used the nations as punching bags. Federal money alone doesn't work as much of a stick or carrot.

More Reaction to Michoacán

AMLO says the arrests were set up only for the media, and Leonel Godoy called it "a violation of the sovreignty of that violates the federal pact." Here Godoy is asking Calderón for an explanation.

Two further comments on the Michoacán arrests: first, the suspicion that it was electorally motivated was inevitable, and if there is evidence that the case was rushed to have an impact on the campaigns, then by all means people should slam Calderón and his team. But, knowing what we know now, the suggestion that the government should have waited until after the elections to execute the arrests is silly unconvincing. In six weeks time, the offending politicions might have destroyed evidence and covered their tracks. They also almost certainly would have continued supporting murderous criminal organizations for another a month and a half. That could well have meant several tons of cocaine safely smuggled through the state, and several dozen dead bodies thanks to the gangs that these officials were protecting. Six days would have been one thing, but six weeks is quite another.

Second, it's rather silly that Leonel Godoy is indignantly asking for answers from Calderón. Shouldn't it be the other way around?


Today's example of why Ronaldo is so easy to dislike:
We have to give credit to Barcelona, but they were a bit lucky to be here because Chelsea did not deserve to lose and no-one has mentioned that.
I think I used some variation of that argument every year I lost in the playoffs in youth basketball.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Random Illustration of How the US Captivates the World

The ESPN Deportes announcers just spent a minute or so talking about Sonia Sotomayor during the Lakers-Nuggets game. 

Just Brilliant

What an amazing effort from Barcelona and Lionel Messi today. They held together despite some shaky early moments, and Eto'o's goal was brilliant--after undressing Vidic, he slipped a surprisingly strong shot by Van Der Sar with just the flick of his right ankle. But Messi's is the performance I will remember. He displayed some spellbinding ball skills in the first half, and his unforgettable header was the dagger in the second. He's like Barry Sanders on a football pitch.

Foreign Cash

One of the likely end results of the financial crisis is a greater chunk of the US economy in foreign hands. As far as Mexico goes, the most famous example of this is Carlos Slim and his purchase of a stake in the New York Times. But another billionaire, Ricardo Salinas, has also been extremely aggressive. Salinas, like Slim, has a wide variety of assets: TV Azteka, Elektra retail stores, Banco Azteka, Iusacell mobile phones, et cetera. His purchases in the States seem to reflect that interest in a diverse group of industries. Last year he bought a big chunk of Circuit City (which didn't turn out so well), and now he's talking about bringing Banco Azteka, which specializes in small loans for consumer purchases, into California.

H/T Latin Americanist.

More on Michoacán

Much of the coverage is focusing on the historic nature of the arrest. Bajo Reserva had the following to say:
It has been an open secret that for decades many populations have been governed by drug traffickers. La Familia as an alternative government, "paternalistic", defiant of the institutions, collector of "taxes". Yesterday's blow is interpreted as a determination to retake ungovernable territories. But it can also be read politically: a Carlos Salinas against "La Quina", an Ernesto Zedillo against Raúl Salinas. The spectacular actions are always accompanied by controversy. That's why since yesterday the question was asked: the investigations couldn't wait six weeks more until after the elections? The blow, some say, seems "electoral". There are two PAN mayoralties that were left headless; but six are from the PRI and another two from the PRD and the team of [Governor] Leonel Godoy was basically dismantled. The governor wasn't warned of what was coming...but the panista in Morelos Marco Antonio Adame was. Does that mean that Godoy is next? Does that explain the lack of trust? There are questions and loose ends. There is material to last a while.
The El Universal editorial included this passage:
Until now the actions against officials linked to organized crime had been limited to sporadic apprehensions owing to leaks from foreign or military intelligence agencies. Cases like that f the ex-governor of Quintana Roo, Mario Villanueva, were rare and were never accompanied by the dismantling of the political apparatus from which the implicated operated. This time seems to be different.

If the accusations against a total of 28 state and municipal authorities of the PRI, of the PAN, and of the PRD are confirmed, we will have incontrovertible proof that the cartels have penetrated whole groups of local political elites in the country, not only some officials in one party or another.


Josefina Vázquez tells us that when she is in charge of the PAN caucus in the Chamber of Deputies, a priority will be to set up a national police registry. Good idea. However, wasn't such a database a provision of the Mérida Initiative? If Mexico already signed an agreement requiring a registry, what does the Chamber of Deputies have to do with anything at this point?

Vázquez's other ideas --an initiative to shore up the water infrastructure so as to eliminate waste, as well as plans to develop alternative energy sources-- are solid (if unspectacular), evidence of a social consciousness in the PAN. If Vázquez manages to accomplish a lot in those areas, you could see her trying to carve out a compassionate conservative niche for a presidential run in 2012.

Feather in Mexico's Cap

In recognition of Mexico's work combating money laundering and terrorist financing, a Mexican official will preside over the Egmont Group (the international financial intelligence agency) for the 2009-2010 year.

Headline of the Day, Non-Champions League Edition

This is tough to beat:
Wolverine visits Calderón in Los Pinos

Headline of the Day

In honor of today's game:
Cantona to coach Man Utd or England, says Cantona
Well, that settles it.


It's the biggest thing to hit Rome since the Barbarians, but who's going to win? Well, Manchester's using white, which can be interpreted as nothing save a sign of surrender. They were happy to merely get by Arsenal. Barca takes the crown with 3-1 victory, with two goals from Messi and another from Eto'o. Tévez adds one in the 70th minute to make it a 2-1 game and add some drama, but Samuel E. answers about ten minutes later to put it away. Ronaldo is stunningly quiet after breaking a toenail on his freshly pedicured right foot in the second minute.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Make Me Laugh

A couple of Sundays ago, actors on the variety/game show "Hazme reir y serás millonario"(Make me laugh and you'll be a millionaire) set up a practical joke at the expense of Sammy, a Televisa personality who suffers from some sort of mild developmental disability. (His family says it's dyslexia, though everyone has been acting as though something far more severe were afflicting him. I'm not sure I would have classified him as disabled in any way had I not known beforehand.) Sammy was led to believe that he was being considered for a possible role on a new show, which was untrue, and wound up in his underwear in an effort to prove himself worthy of the nonexistent job. 

After the sketch (which was objectively unfunny, controversy aside) was aired, the show's judges condemned the joke in language that was more offensive to Sammy than the joke itself, calling him "an accident of television" and "abnormal". Katia D'Artigues followed that up with a column critical of the sketch a couple of days later. On this Sunday's show, amid mutual accusations and recriminations, one of the judges who had slammed the stunt walked off the stage during the live broadcast. 

Which leads us to Ricardo Raphael's column on Monday: 
We are so accustomed to discrimination that we don't have the intellectual antibodies to detect it when it is happening. If we are placed in a situation of superiority we tolerate it, we promote it, and we reproduce it without objection. It's telling that, in the case mentioned, we can identify with roles of the señoras Montijo or Castellanos --or at least with the naughty stuffed parrot-- so that the grotesque behavior imposed upon the mocked individual is defended with the most disingenuous of reasons. 

Not even the critical judge from the program, Rafael Inclán, had the intellectual tools to transmit the reasons for his instinctive discomfort. 


Meanwhile, it wouldn't be a bad idea for the broadcasters to carry out a revision of their ethics codes and to also name a defender of their audiences, with the explicit purposes of making their business compatible with the freedom of expression and the right to not be discriminated. Let's hope that before doing so, the Constitution doesn't end up coming down on them in the form of a costly judicial lawsuit. 
It's not clear to me if this is a proposal for an internal censor or an ombudsman or what, but if the idea is to forcibly regulate television, that seems draconian; simply banning bad taste is an ineffective way for a democratic country to move its popular culture to a higher moral ground. Encouraging social stigmatizing of programs that trade in this sort of material seems much preferable. 

It also should be pointed out that if the Sammy sketch was over the line, then a huge amount of what appears on Mexican television is as well. Making the regular guy on the street look stupid is a pillar virtually every comedy program. And whatever his shortcomings, Sammy appeared on the show willingly. A lot of the foils for Mexican TV comedians do not. 

Gómez Mont Speaks

Milenio published a long interview with Fernando Gómez Mont yesterday that offered no shockers but covered some interesting ground. Highlights:
Just a few days from the meeting of the National Security Council, in a strong tone with any runaround, Gómez Mont clearly affirmed that "purifying the police doesn't address only the corrupt [cop], also the coward. But that goes toward the end result of those who make up these forces having the right to personal honor and security. That's the reconstruction that we are carrying out".

How are you confronting groups that work on the margin of the institutions, para-police groups...? What is to be done about them?
It's very simple, the difference between organized crime and the institutions. The difference lies in that the state can offer their agents a life project, honor for the agents and security for their families.

When they opt for the clandestine route to confront this supposed risk, the possibility that these types of groups tomorrow start to operate in the same way as organized crime only increases. That is not nor will it be the solution and it's a fact. And I mean that the genesis of the security problem in Mexico was when from the seat of power they wanted this type of undercover operations. The deinstitutionalization of the state's security forces was the primordial responsibility of those who operated the state. That path has no future and that path is a source of risk, and we are investigating if it exists. He who is hailed as a hero today will be a villain tomorrow. Simply because he's acting on the edge of the law.

Because if you can't continue the service carried out with honor and with security and tranquility for your family, you simply are headed for the paranoid path of secrecy.

Do you have the social base of drug trafficking measured?
The social base does exist, linked to criminal organizations, it's a function of precariousness, with development the incentives disappear. But nobody should question: first comes security as the preeminent goal as a budget so that the other goals can be reached. He who wants to achieve a security solution with just social or economic policies is playing the role of the naïf or useful idiot.

In regard to the Mexican army in the streets, what is the plan for ending the deployment? Or will they continue in this role despite the possibility that in the long term the image of the military is damaged?
In some zones where the institutional weakening has been grave, the army has had a more significant role. But the logic is that the institutions of public security function and the army will continue to have a more discreet role in this task as the institutions of administration and criminal justice and criminal prevention grow stronger. Congress, after a conscientious debate, has continued creating tools for this purpose.
The stuff about para-police groups was interesting in that I've not heard much comment on that at all, but it was discussed as though it were a significant challenge. Which it may well be.

One last point: Gómez Mont is often mentioned as a potential PAN presidential candidate. If that's to be, he could stand to speak more directly. Much of this interview was Kerry-esque, almost obfuscatory. It didn't seem like it was willfully so, but rather a product of his speaking style.

Mayors Arrested

A sign of the corruption of the Mexican state at its lowest levels, or an example of army overreaction? Or both? Soldiers arrested six different mayors in Michoacán earlier today, as well as an official in the state attorney general's office, presumably because of suspected collusion with organized crime. These mayors don't run small hamlets; Uruapan and Apatzingán are two of the bigger towns in the state. Each city's police force was also disarmed.

Update: the mayors are accused of protecting La Familia.

Further update: It wound up being ten mayors, a judge, and seventeen state officials wearing handcuffs by the end of the day.

On Kessel's Declaration

Three million bpd in 2015? Schettino doesn't buy it:
...the declaration of Secretary Kessel is surprising, as it says that in a pair of years production will recover, and we will return to 3 million bpd in 2015. According to the secretary, this is going to happen thanks to Chicontepec. The truth, I don't think that's going to happen, for reasons that we've already covered in this column in regard to that mythical field that has been used as an excuse before the debacle of the oil reform. Chicontepec is never going to replace Cantarell, simply because it requires 200 times more wells to do so, and because it would require that Mexico construct five times more wells than it has in its entire history. That's not going to happen, especially if the news reported in these pages yesterday by Noé Cruz Serrano is correct: Pemex is going to have to postpone investments in that field because of cash flow problems.

Denying reality is silliness. There's no other label for it.


Carlos Loret on the pushing and pulling to control the PAN wing in the Chamber of Deputies:
What might César Nava have done from his office connected to that of the president to fall from his pedestal? What strings might he have moved to have fallen from grace in Los Pinos? Could it be that he took advantage of his situation as a lawyer to stick his hands in some judicial seat, or some issue before the Court, some firing at CNDH, some topic before the electoral tribunal? Was he the one who leaked information that put Genaro García Luna in the spotlight, questioning his money and his collaborators?

He did something when he was Calderón personal secretary so that upon leaving he had to execute a political magic act: he spread that version that he was the favorite, the one designated by the president to coordinate the PAN caucus in next Chamber of Deputies.

False. Nava didn't exit the presidential circle on good terms and he won't be the one heading the incoming PAN legislators. It will be Josefina Vázquez Mota.
So does this mean that the speculation that Vázquez Mota left the Secretariat of Education because she wasn't up to the task of confronting Elba Esther was off base?


According to the IFE, the PAN was the party that enjoyed the largest amount of coverage in radio and television broadcasts during the first week of campaigning. Twenty-four percent of the political news coverage was devoted to the PAN, with the PRD coming in second at 22.5 percent, followed by the PRI at 22.3 percent. But not all press is good press: the majority of the stories on the PAN were negative, while for the PRI that figure was only 50 percent. The PRI was the party most frequently mentioned by name (on 469 occasions), followed by the PAN (468) and the PRD (406).

In terms of the sheer volume, it's clear that the PRD's fade from relevancy has not had a huge impact; it still enjoys the coverage of a co-equal party.

Just Another Day in the Veracruz Government

Veracruz operates an Open-Door Monday program, during which citizens can address their concerns (whatever they may be) with a state official. Taking advantage of this fine opportunity, a woman whose husband, a PAN party activist, had evidently left her without many assets following a divorce, stripped down to her underwear and announced her dissatisfaction with her situation case in the state's government building. The protest drifted into partisanship and obscenity:
Do you think the PAN has the right to mock everyone? If you all call yourselves panistas, do you think everyone from the PAN is good? Because I'm here to tell you that they are corrupt sons of bitches who abuse all the unprotected single women.

State Polls

In the key northern state of Nuevo León, Milenio shows the PRI with a six-point lead over the PAN in the gubernatorial race, 50.4 to 44.1, which is slightly larger than the previous poll I'd seen. The PRD barely gets off the ground with 1.9 percent.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Not Voting and Null Voting

There's been a lot of chatter about null votes and vote abstention in recent days, including a pair of recent columns from José Antonio Crespo and a note in Excélsior today. Crespo, who details the efforts of a handful of null-vote enthusiasts in the first of the linked columns, implies that the there is a certain nobility in the null vote, that it is a principled stand against an array of unappealing electoral options. 

I don't really see what purpose a null vote as opposed to the principled abstention serves. A vote that inevitably disappears into irrelevancy isn't much different from a vote that never was. Moreover, why don't those same people who are organizing null vote drives redirect their organizational skills toward together joining or forming a political party? In the short run, such a project can't achieve less than not voting at all, and in the long run, of course, grass-roots groups can grow into mainstream, broad-based coalitions (for better or worse) with the power to significantly impact the decisions of parties and alter the outcome of elections. Which would seem like a pretty good way to broaden Mexico's electoral options. 

El Universal, which incidentally has a useful site up and running dedicated to election coverage, polled Mexicans about their views toward null votes and not voting. Asked whether not voting or turning in a null vote was good or bad, 76 percent responded that it was bad, against only 10 percent that said it was good. Another question asked whether Mexicans, if none of the available candidates seemed worthy of a vote, would react with a null vote or by not voting? Almost 40 percent found neither of the two options convincing. 


It didn't occur to me last night that the North Korean nuclear test would require any special action from Mexico, but, of course, Calderón successfully landed a spot for his nation on the Security Council. (Which, in all honesty, doesn't necessarily change the calculus vis-a-vis the absence of any required action, but that's a story for another day.) Here's the statement of outrage-ishness from the Foreign Ministry: 
These actions contravene international law and principles of disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation. In addition, they exacerbate tensions on the Korean Peninsula and put at risk the stability of the region. 

Propping Up Tourism

In the company of dozens of celebrities, Felipe Calderón announced the Vive México publicity campaign, aimed at filling floundering tourism sites with people. The money promised ($1.2 billion) is nothing new, and is part of the flu recovery package announced a couple of weeks ago. So what does this campaign amount to? As the Los Pinos website explains it, "Vive México is a movement, a call to action and unity be all".

Two Dubious Assertions about the Salinas-de la Madrid Dustup

Courtesy of José Fernández Santillán, here's the first:
To find a parallel of this caliber in the history of Mexico's political elites we have to go back to the '20s, when the Sonora Group, headed by Álvaro Obregón and Plutarco Elías Calles, turned its back on Venustiano Carranza.
I suspect one year from now, the Salinas-De la Madrid affair will be a distant memory with little lingering significance. Even if I'm wrong, and it fundamentally changes the way the PRI operates and how Mexico deals with its ex-presidents, it's unlikely to fundamentally change the course of Mexico for close to a century and lead to the assassination of a president, which was of course the outcome of the Carranza-Sonora split.

And here's the second:
Thanks to the Aristegui-De la Madrid interview it was uncovered who is really in control of the country: Carlos Salinas Gortari.
I know that his adversaries like to see him as ten feet tall, and I don't doubt that Salinas weilds enormous influence in certain PRI circles, but he runs the country? Really, all this episode showed is that Salinas and his clique exercise power over Miguel de la Madrid's sons.

Mexico's To-do List

Jorge Chabat laments the lack of foresightedness on the part of Mexico's leaders, and runs down the pressing list of incomplete chores:
The list of the government's pending problems is very long: a fiscal reform that truly provides the state the funds with which to do its job well. Penal reform, communication between the federal government and the states on important topics like health, the state system of medical attention, labor reform, the modernization of the electricity supply and the distribution of potable water for the entire nation, the railroad and highway network, the federal mail service, combating corruption in the three levels of government, the formation of efficient and honest police agencies through the country, the creation of enough well paying jobs for the nation's inhabitants, the substantial improvement in the quality of education at every level, access for the population to technological advances like the internet, combating poverty, et cetera, et cetera.

At this point it's more than obvious that we are a country in which the governments of the past --of the last 500 years, so that no party feels targeted-- haven't done their job. They never made the changes that were needed and they allowed everything to accumulate until it reached crisis level. We stand before a scenario of the collapse of the country, because the basic problems haven't been resolved. The majority of the problems require political will and money. From that perspective, the first reform that must be carried out is the fiscal reform, so that we have sufficient funds to carry out other reforms. Nevertheless, no one takes the bull by the horns. Not even the parties that are campaigning. Everything is rhetorical propaganda: the problem of the health system is solved with the government giving you money to buy medicine and insecurity is done away with by combating poverty. And the money? Where are the funds for this going to come from? There's no answer.
Quite a list, even if you don't think state collapse is a likely consequence of the failure to take on these problems.

Weekend Recap: Colombia in the News

Colombia played an oddly large role in Mexico's weekend news: first, an UNAM professor was deported to Colombia because of his links to the FARC. This made Álvaro Uribe quite happy.

Also, a delegation of Mexican pols was in Bogotá this weekend, which led to César Duarte saying that Mexico should learn from Colombia's security successes (basically, tools for attacking criminal financial networks and cleaning up the police). Chihuahua's governor was also in town, which led to the collaborative agreements between the state and Colombia.

Energy Secretary Writes Checks that Her Oil Industry Can't Cash?

Georgina Kessel says that in 2015, Mexico will be producing 3 million barrels of oil per day. Today, Pemex generates about 2.64 million bpd, and has been in a period of seemingly inexorable decline for several years.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Worlds Collide: Politics and Lucha Libre

Here's Místico shilling for the PAN. 

Like a lot of the PAN campaign ads, this one closes with, "Don't leave Mexico in the hands of the criminals. Vote PAN." What an insidious tactic. It says a great deal (and none of it positive) about Mexico's electoral regime that implying, Rove-style, that voting for another party is the equivalent to handing the government over to organized crime is kosher, yet an honest and direct negative ad is illegal. 

Newsweek's Makeover

León Krauze has seen the future of Newsweek, and he prefers its past: 
Just last week the first issue of the new Newsweek appeared. Jon Meacham, the editor of the magazine, promised a few months ago that the redesign would turn Newsweek into a magazine with with lower circulation planned for a public more interested in analysis than information; a public willing to pay more and, maybe, subscribe with greater loyalty. To achieve it, Meacham would have had to offer an authentically innovative and aggressive project. Unfortunately, now that I have the first issue in my hands, all I see (as a reader for years) is a confused magazine. The equilibrium between image and text has been lost. In contrast to a magazine with the depth and beauty of Foreign Policy, Meacham and his team seem to have confused depth with boredom. The design of the opinion pages, for example, seem like a disaster to me. With a multicolor backdrop that is neither encouraging nor illustrative, the texts from the Newsweek analysts remind me of a paid insert. Even the interview with Barack Obama --evidently a piece of resistance from Meacham-- is designed with too much air and a dryness that is frightening. Ultimately, sadly, this new Newsweek seems like one more step toward the grave rather than a deep breath after the pain. 
I couldn't agree more about the Take, as I believe the analysis section is called. The six straight pages of opinion pieces from Zakaria and company just didn't work. It struck me as something like Foreign Affairs in the sense that it's several thousand words of analysis with little visual relief, but, because it's six separate pieces instead of one, it lacks the depth that makes ploughing through an article from Foreign Affairs or its competitors worth the effort. Of course, Meacham's task is Herculean, but squeezing an expanded op-ed page into a newsweekly is a step in the wrong direction. 

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Closing Doors

It's been a disheartening week of economic news in Mexico (although not entirely, and Schettino says we've basically touched bottom), but this piece of news seemed more pointedly depressing than a 8.2 percent decline in the first-quarter GDB: thanks to the flu, 3,000 restaurants in Mexico City have gone out of business

Mexico's Educational Ills

Macario Schettino, echoing a point made last month by Maite Reyes-Retana, says Mexico's educational problems go beyond one woman. 
Teachers are frequently recognized for their dedication and efforts in an activity as hard as teaching. I too wish to recognize teachers with dedication in this country, from preschool education to postgraduate. Contempt, on the other hand, [I have] for the hundreds of thousands that pretend to be [teachers] and that blamelessly destroy the lives of children and teens, day after day. 

Many people, in particular in the academy and in the media, the educational problems are concentrated in one teacher, Elba Esther. It would be great if that were the case, because it would only be a question of removing her, something that a million and a half professors surely would have been able to accomplish, supported by the four presidents who have governed this country while the teacher governs her union. Seeing the sectional leaders is enough to raise doubts that Elba Esther is the problem...
He adds that while it may not look like it, the country has made strides: 
The excuse from those who defend with vehemence the Revolutionary regime, the builder of these grotesques, is that the governments of "change" have not done anything to resolve the educational crisis. First, they have done something: today we know what is going on, and we never did before. The first [internationally comparative] exam in which Mexico participated, in 2000, couldn't be published by the OECD by rule of the Mexican government, the last of the PRI. But beyond knowing this, and taking some timid measures in the right direction, like the Alliance for the Quality of Education, it's hard for me to imagine what a government could do, from whichever party you like, to confront these groups in power like the unions mentioned (as is the case with the oligopolistic businessmen) without having a clear majority. Whether it is through votes (which hasn't happened since 1997) or through stable political alliances (something that we've never seen in Mexico).

Things Not to Be Proud Of

Being confused with a hooker in Moscow, while wearing your professional attire. Too bad they can't take her ridiculous videos off the television while I'm at the gym. 

Friday, May 22, 2009

Credibility on the Line?

In today's column, Leo Zuckermann offers a detailed chronology of the erroneousness of Agustín Carstens' financial forecasts from February of 2008 up to the present day, before concluding:
I understand that the Treasury Secretary offers an optimistic vision of the economy so as not to deepen economic fears. Nevertheless, I think Carstens has abused optimism to the detriment of reality. He has consistently erred in his forecasts and with it has lost the credibility that a serious Treasury Secretary needs. Taking into account the past performance of Carstens, can we really believe that the Mexican economy will contract by only 5.5 percent in 2009?
This goes to something I posted about the other day. I still think it's premature to say he has lost all credibility and therefore can't be taken seriously, but it does seem as though his prognostications have been consistently more off-base than those of other nations.

More on Zacatecas' Ailments

Zacatecas used to be among the quietest states in Mexico. Now, it displays all the symptoms of the illnesses plaguing the country. Check out the video of the flight from the Zacatecas jail here, here, here, and here. For me, the indelible image is at the end of the first video (which captures the events just outside the facility's gate), after all 50-some prisoners had slipped out but before the guards appeared, a dog runs toward the prison as if to ask, What's going on?

Also, Ricardo Monreal's brother is being investigated for connections to the 14.5 tons of marijuana found in his warehouse. Ricardo, formerly a governor of the state and presently a senator with the PT, has essentially dismissed the whole affair a political smear campaign. He has also asked to have his senatorial exemption from prosecution removed so that he himself may be investigated, although the PGR says that Ricardo is not a target.

Update: Imagen's question of the day reads, "After having learned about the video of the jailbreak in Cieneguillas, do you think, a) the governor of the state is involved. b) just the prison system." What a silly premise; unless the question refers to another video that I've not seen (which I suppose is possible) you can't really tell anything from the video other than what we already knew: a bunch of inmates broke out. It's like asking after a Cavs video if Lebron get paid by check or direct deposit. For the record, 43 percent say they now think the governor was involved.

Also, the state's secretary of public security has resigned.

Gulf Lieutenant Arrested

Mexican authorities arrested a high-level Gulf trafficker in Monterrey. There's been a lot of not-quite-famous-but-quite-important figures arrested in the last couple of weeks.

Lapse by the EMP

Evidently, when Calderón was in Torreón two weeks ago, a company owned by the brother of capo Sergio Villarreal was tabbed to install the sound system for the president's visit to a local dairy plant. Oddly, this wasn't the first time that Juan Francisco Villarreal has offered his services to the highest levels of the government. He was interviewed in 2004, after having done work for the Supreme Court:
"I have a public, open, honest life, and...well what can you do about brothers, you don't choose them...God sends them."

He said that it's been more than five years since he's heard anything about his brother Sergio. "All I know from him is through magazines or newspapers," he said.

Corruption along the Border

Via Excélsior, Stratfor has a new report out that details Mexican drug gangs' attempts to corrupt American officials. The report (at least the online version of it) doesn't go into much detail, but this is a topic American officials should be thinking about sooner rather than later. Evidently not overly jealous of its reputation as a serious newspaper, Excélsior focuses exclusively on the 8 percent of the report that describes the use of sex to ply Border Patrol agents.

New Project

The son of deceased drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, who now lives in the US under an assumed name, will be making a documentary about his father. This seems like a case where the "making of" documentary will be more interesting than the feature itself.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


A study of Mexican campaign spots have revealed that women are often portrayed as victims and in domestic roles. The worst offenders being the PAN, the PRD, and the Green Party, which would make attaching an ideological predisposition to chauvinism rather tricky. The group behind the study analyzed sixteen adds, of which fifteen showed a woman as the victim of government malfeasance, and fourteen featured a woman in her role as a mother.

Today in Self-Delusion

From The Corner:
As a friend succinctly puts it, "When that big asteroid finally heads toward Earth, who's the person you'd most want to be in charge?" I suspect Cheney would score at or near the top.

Conservatives can only speculate about the state of affairs had we seen more of this type of detailed, sober defense during President Bush's tenure.
The belief Bush's failures did not derive from faulty policies but were merely a matter of an insufficiently articulate defense of said policies suggests that Republicans are still a long way from climbing out of their present hole. And upon what does he base his suspicion that most of the nation secretly wants Cheney in charge when the going gets tough? The US has a pretty imposing set of problems right now, and no one wants Cheney running things. And rightfully so; we've been paying attention that last eight years.

The post's title is also great: "Cheney: Adult". It reminds of Jay Bilas' foremost compliment of any basketball player; "He's a man."


Leo Zuckermann on the difficulties facing a would-be independent politician in Mexico:
Elisa de Anda is 27. She's a lawyer and speaks with the conviction of the young; of those that think that Mexico can change. She wants to contribute her grain of sand to the construction of a better democracy. For such a purpose, she registered as a candidate for federal deputy in District 23 in the capital. But Elisa doesn't belong to any party because she's part of the group of youngsters who want to generate change independent from the parties that she considers a part of the problem, not the solution.

Because she is an independent candidate, the IFE refused to register Elisa for the election on July 5th. The problem is that, as in many electoral realms in Mexico, the law mandates, inside of the parties, everything; outside of them, nothing. It's logical. The parties are the ones that have legislated these restrictions that benefit them.

Empty Vessel?

Daniel Drezner wonders if the Republicans in the age of Rush have anything to offer on foreign policy:
The concept of a “loyal opposition” is a difficult one to straddle. On the one hand, it is vital for Americans to be exposed to contrasting takes on the best way to advance American interests. Opposition forces the current leadership to defend and articulate their preferred course of action. On the other hand, opposition based on the principles of Joe the Plumber is simply not an opposition that can be taken seriously. Let’s hope the GOP can form a viable counterweight so that more foreign-policy opinions and valuable debates become a reality. Peanut-gallery snarkery will serve no one.

Great News

V is back!:
V. A remake of the extremely awesome '80s hit about alien visitors. (It was kind of like Alf as a parable about fascism.) If you were not a fan of Firefly or Stargate SG-1, then you'll want to be introduced to star Morena Baccarin, who might well be in contention for the coveted title of "hottest woman on TV," even after exposing her space-lizard face. Can't wait for the blog posts likening her character to Sarah Palin.

Life in Coahuila

A postcard from a day in the life of a Coahuila politician:
To "drive off the bad vibes", so that nothing negative obstructs the deputies in their job, so that they have "clarity of mind" and "everything comes out well", a faith healer carried "a cleaning" with resin and herb incense in the main room of the local Congress.

Legislators from the National Action Party, Institutional Party of the Revolution, and the Party of the Democratic Revolution, and Democratic Unity of Coahuila were surprised, then amused, and later unsettled because nobody knew if someone had sent her or if what she was doing was good or bad, or if someone with a grudge had sent her.

Cash Influx

Calderón announced yesterday that dozens of multinationals will invest $6.3 billion in Mexico later this year, creating around 27,000 new jobs.

It's the Little Things

I became violently ill yesterday morning, and through my feverish hallucinations, I was struck by the different reactions to sickness from people in Mexico and the States: in Mexico, when you are sick, people ask you what you have eaten. In the US, people are more likely to ask you who you've been hanging out with that might have passed a virus along.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Speak Up!

Imagen asks if Mexico's ex-presidents have the right to voice opinions publicly, and almost 90 percent say that they do. Rightly so.

Zakaria Approves

Of Mexico's flu reaction.

The Chinese Weren't the Only Ones

Cuba quarantined more than 300 Mexican med students for 22 days, forcing them to take Tamiflu on a nightly basis. The quarantine ended yesterday, and there was much celebrating in Jagüey el Grande.

More Bandwidth

Felipe Calderón announced the creation of an enhanced fiber optic network in Mexico yesterday. The 21,000 kilometers of cable will increase the speed of the web in Mexico (which I remember thinking was horribly slow when I first arrived, but either it improved or I grew accustomed, because it no longer bothers me) and promote competition, the president tells us.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

AMLO's Support: Not Welcome?

PRD boss Jesús Ortega has announced that campaign ads for Mexico City PRD candidates featuring AMLO will not run until the party has had a chance to analyze whether they will hurt the party nationally. He also expressed frustration with AMLO's remark that "it's not a sin" for a perredista to vote for a PT or Convergencia candidate. 

Two Random People Who Look Very Similar

Chris Noth
Originally uploaded by czarina369cz
I was irritated by not being able to figure who exactly each of the men to the right resembled for some months now, so this is a big accomplishment: Mario Vargas Llosa and Chris Noth are quite possibly the same (quite talented) person.

Potential Problem

Yuriria Sierra mentions something in today's column that I'd not heard: Marcelo Ebrard put his ex-wife in charge of the Mexico City Office of International Affairs, where she earns a salary only about $100 less than Ebrard himself (she doesn't specify, but I believe she is referring to monthly). If there's more of that "open-minded nepotism" in his track record, that seems like something that could pose an obstacle to his coronation in 2012.

One more thing about Ebrard's Reuter's interview: why is the reaction to his declaration of ambition so much stronger this time around than in July, or in May, when he said basically the same thing?

Ladies in the Game

A new Chamber of Deputies report reveals that the presence of women in retail drug dealing, as measured by the number of arrests for narcomenudeo offenses, has jumped from 15 percent to almost 20 percent in just four years.

Getting Feisty

In the aftermath of the huge jailbreak in Zacatecas, the state's two principal politicians (Governor Amalia García and Senator Ricardo Monreal) are trading accusations. Actually, they've been doing so for a while. Last year, when the Zacatecas State Fair was missing about half of its proprietors, Monreal blamed García for tolerating extortion and kidnapping. Around then, anonymous emails that the government attributed to Monreal accused García of protecting the Zetas. Last month, García ramped up the dispute with an add touting her government's anti-drug action that mentioned a fifteen-ton marijuana seizure at a warehouse owned by Monreal's brother. Monreal said the seizure was part of a smear campaign. After the escape of fifty alleged Zetas from a jail this weekend, Monreal accused García's government of complicity.

As to who is primarily responsible for the violence? Who knows. Zacatecas has gotten a lot more dangerous under García, but, as the second linked article points out, most of the public security officials in her administration are holdovers from her predecessor, Monreal.

Hard to Dispute

Leonardo Curzio offers a disturbing and hard-to-dispute observation:
The candidates are the absent figures from the campaign. The PAN has based, until now, its campaign on the support of the president; the PRI has a generic message about provocations and its inexhaustible patience. And the conglomerate of parties that supports López Obrador keeps financing the ninth year of his eternal presidential campaign. But of the candidates for deputy and what they could do to make peoples' lives better, almost nothing is said. I mean, their names aren't even mentioned. Later we are amazed at the barest of awareness that people have of the Legislative Branch and its members. They are trivial that they don't matter even in their parties' campaigns.
This fits pretty well with the broad historical picture of Mexico painted by Enrique Krauze in Mexico: Biography of Power (as well as many others in many other books): Mexico's path has been determined not by the collective voice of the many, but by the will of the powerful individual. Consequently, even after 12 years of divided government, Mexico's legislature remains an anonymous body of forgettable figures, rather than an equal player in a modern democracy. A quick example: how many of today's presidential hopefuls built their profile in the Senate or in the Chamber of Deputies? Ebrard? No. Creel? No. Peña Nieto? No. Paredes? No. El Peje? No. Gómez Mont? No. Vázquez? No. Beltrones? More than the rest, but, truthfully, no.

This is a deeply ingrained trend, which is unfortunate, because it contributes to government dysfunction at every level.

Memoirs of a Kingpin

After hanging out at the website of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (the man usually credited with being the original Mexican kingpin) an anonymous author established a correspondence with his son, and later got his hands on a handwritten memoir written by the capo. Félix has suggestions for the Mexican authorities can attack today's capos. He also denies any blood relationship to Tijuana's Arellano Félix family. A few other highlights:
Vicente Fox, for whom, he tells us, his whole family voted with great hope, disappointed him as president, although he also defends his role in the escape from Puente Grande by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, whom he avoids mentioning by name.
On the cover [of a magazine called Alarde Policaco in 1989, right after Félix's arrest] you can see a wrong-minded optimism: "Drug trafficking is now totally exterminated after the capture of the cocaine czar, Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo, who now finds himself behind bars and hanging out with other capos".
Didn't quite work out that way.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Two Good Reviews

Two entertaining reviews have added a pair of new biographies to my reading list: Gerald Martin's Gabriel García Márquez: A Life and Alice Schroeder's The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life.

Mayweather or Pacquiao?

Ring Magazine already made its case for the fighter of the decade --Pacquiao-- and most of their readers seem to agree. A pair of Canadian fans capture it perfectly: 

There's no debate here as far as I'm concerned. Floyd was great at 130, peaking with his masterful performance over Corrales. He hasn't put on that level a performance against that level a fighter (borderline hall of famer) since. That about says it all. At 135, he went 1-1 (in my eyes) against Castillo. At 40 and 47 he fought no one of note (I could care less that Baldomir was the "lineal champ"). Corrales and Castillo aside, how many of Floyd's victims went on to score a significant win post-Floyd? No one from 140 to 154. Why? They were all past it, or never that good to begin with. Contrast that with Pac's resume starting with the first Barrera fight, and it's no contest.


Since 2003, Floyd Mayweather Jr. had 10 fights against whom? Only two of his opponents were famous, De La Hoya and Hatton. Zab Judah and Arturo Gatti are not in the same league as Barrera, Morales and Marquez. The remaining five fighters are Sosa, N’dou, Bruseles, Corley and Mitchell. Who are they? If I may also add, there were only five TKOs, four unanimous decisions and one split decision against De La Hoya, who by the way took a bad beating from Pacquaio.

Manny Pacquaio meanwhile fought 16 times. He beat convincingly the second most famous fighter of all time next to Ali, Oscar De La Hoya. He prevailed over greats Barerra and Morales twice (he also lost once to Morales) and also beat another potential great, Juan Manuel Marquez. Also, let's not forget the May 2nd bout against Ricky Hatton that elevated Pacquaio to the next level. Pacquaio has had four KOs, seven TKOs and five Unanimous decisions.
Contrast that to the typical Mayweather argument:
Philadelphia, Pa.

Mayweather won major titles in five different weight classes.

1. Dismantled the late great Diego “Chico” Corrales. Diego ruled the lower weight classes at that time. Diego was the bigger man!

2. Destroyed a newly renovated champ in Gatti, after Gatti learned to box from McGirt! Gatti was champ and the bigger MAN! Floyd moved up and you know the rest.

3.Zab Judah was the undisputed welterweight champ. Floyd gave him a BOXING CLINIC!

4. Baldomir. The man who beat the undisputed-champ Judah. Floyd made him look silly!

5. Beat a much BIGGER and YOUNGER and HUNGRIER De La Hoya. KO’d a younger, fully confident Hatton. Floyd already damaged Hatton's confidence as a fighter. Pacquiao simply finished the LEFTOVERS!
Or, if you want to veer into the clinically deluded: 
I feel that prime 147 pound Mayweather Jr. beats a prime 147 pound Ray Robinson. Same goes for Ray Leonard. Prime Roberto Duran at 135 pounds, Mayweather Jr. boxes circles around him.
This is just silly. The mark for being a great fighter is beating great fighters. Unless you somehow include Judah (who was in the midst of a 2-4-1 streak) and Arturo Gatti (who would be knocked out by both Carlos Baldomir and Alfonso Gomez inside of two years), there's simply no argument. Pacquiao consistently stepped up to his toughest possible challenges; Mayweather avoided his. For the most part, Pacquiao beat the best of his division; for the most part, Mayweather didn't.

Obama in the Land of the Fighting Irish

I was against Obama's visit to South Bend, not because of any abortion qualms, but rather because of college football: how dare Obama put the stamp of legitimacy on the most evil, antiquated, overrated, detestable sporting entity on the globe with a commencement address. How dare he!

Somehow ignoring the athletic angle and focusing only on the political and moral aspects of the visit, here are Alan Jacobs and E.J. Dionne. Jacobs' case is perfectly logical, but said logic --that because they believe abortion is tantamount to murder, pro-lifers can be forgiven for dismissing Obama's call for civility-- taken to its extreme is, of course, a bit dangerous. If abortion is literally no different from murder, then it's not just civility that pro-lifers have a moral imperative to discard, but any obstacle that gets in the way of an abortion-free America. 

I also don't see the comparison with civil rights. In the Jim Crow South, there was one group of clear oppressors motivated by racism and a desire to maintain their privileged status, and another group of oppressed who simply wanted to enjoy equal status. Because both sides have worthy motives, that obvious dichotomy is absent in abortion. Whatever you think of abortion, you can't argue that the government telling women what surgeries to get is in and of itself a good thing. (The corollary is even more obviously true: think what you will about government intrusion, a pregnancy resulting in an abortion is nothing to celebrate.) You may think that abortion is an evil that far outweighs the evil of the government dictating what procedures you can perform, but all things being equal, you'd rather not have politicians making medical decisions. I suppose your position boils down to which you find more repellant: the legal and intentional termination of a pregnancy, or the government dictating a woman's reproductive rights (and, of course, the consequent back-ally abortions). But even if you disagree with them, pro-choicers are guided by a principal with a greater moral foundation than, "White people are the chosen race, black people are lesser, therefore the former shall rightfully dominate the latter".

Economic Optimism

Yesterday, Calderón sounded an optimistic economic note in saying that the worst days of the economic crisis would soon be definitively in the past. On Friday, he mentioned the "encouraging signs" in the US economy, and added that during the second half of 2009 or at the very latest at the beginning of 2010, the Mexican economy would begin to rebound.

Not surprisingly, the tone is more upbeat than recent news would seem to warrant, and the forecast more certain coming from Calderón's mouth than from those of independent analysts. It's surely not easy for a leader having to walk the fine line between instilling much-needed confidence in the economy and willfully ignoring reality, and I didn't see anything factually suspect in the snippets of Calderón's remarks given, but you wonder at what point people are going to stop believing Calderón when his comments seem to be so directly at odds with the economic climate. I'm not suggesting we're anywhere near that point just yet, but if the third quarter of 2009 looks a lot like the first (which is to say, if the recovery doesn't start until 2010), is Calderón going to be singing the same song?

Responding to Quinones' Piece

Here's Arturo Sarukhan's response to Sam Quinones' gloomy dispatch from Mexico in February, and Quinones' rejoinder:

Although the violence let loose by drug traffickers cannot be denied, the suggestion that Mexico is part of an “axis of upheaval,” as Niall Ferguson claims, or is “wracked by a criminal-capitalist insurgency,” as Sam Quinones (“State of War” March/April 2009) argues, is clearly off the mark.

If one considers Ferguson’s criteria for inclusion in an “axis of upheaval”—political and social turmoil coupled with economic calamity—it is difficult to see how Mexico could possibly be included. We have solid political institutions, no ethnic fissures, a vigorous civil society, and the 12th-largest economy in the world. The so-called “economic calamities” we face are the same ones menacing all countries as a result of the global financial crisis. Mexico is better positioned today than most to confront this crisis, and any talk of empires, in decline or otherwise, has little bearing on my country.

There has indeed been a substantial increase in violence connected to drug syndicates, the focus of Quinones’s article. Although I do not minimize the seriousness of the threat posed by drug-trafficking organizations and the violence they have unleashed in response to President Felipe Calderón’s decision to roll them back, the notion that this violence can be described as a “raging insurgency” is more than simple hyperbole; it is a simplistic mischaracterization.

In short, it is important to beware of one-size-fits-all labels like the ones Ferguson employs here, as well as analyses that both overstate and oversimplify the current situation such as the one Quinones presents.

—Arturo Sarukhan

Ambassador to the United States

Embassy of Mexico

Washington, D.C.

Sam Quinones replies:

I agree with Ambassador Sarukhan that there is no need for hysteria or hyperbole with regard to the recent drug violence in Mexico, a country that I love and lived in for many years. Things are bad enough and don’t need exaggeration.

I chose my words with great care. I felt I saw signs of insurgency in what the cartels are attempting. I’m referring to their brazen challenge to authority best evidenced by their use of narcomantas (“drug banners”) to broadcast messages to their rivals and the public, their attacks on reporters and television studios, warning messages left on bodies, the murder of many police officers, attempts to buy or assassinate mayors, orders to police chiefs to resign or face the death of their officers, and so on.

However, I chose the phrase “criminal-capitalist” to modify the insurgency idea because I don’t believe the cartels have a political goal. They are, above all, businessmen. Their one interest, it seems to me, is not toppling the state but being left alone to make their profits through smuggling illegal drugs into the United States.

Although it was pessimistic, I didn't think the piece was hugely unfair, but I agree with the ambassador here; "insurgency" is an inapt term.

Ranking the Latin American Multinationals

Here's a list of the top "multilatinas" from América Economía. Brazilian firms dominate the rankings, with 26 of 60 spots. Mexico comes next with 13, followed by Chile with 12. Mexico's proportion of companies among the top 60 (just over 20 percent) is slightly lower than its proportion of the region's GDP (a little more than 25 percent in nominal terms), so you could interpret this as a crude indicator that the best of the Mexican economy underperforms.

At the top of the list is Argentina's Tenaris, followed by Cemex. Other Mexican entries in the top twenty include Grupo Alfa, América Móvil, Bimbo, and Telmex. Among the oil giants, Petrobras comes in at number 10, Pvdsa at 15, and Pemex not at all. Other high-profile Mexican firms like Televisa, Grupo Modelo, Elektra, and Femsa made the list as well.

The methodology makes this list much more relevant than that of a similar list by Poder. América Economía focuses on the significance of a company's employees, sales and investment in its overseas affiliates, its geographic extension, shareholder confidence, liquidity, and size. Poder based its list more heavily on size, which explains the high rankings of floundering behemoths like Pemex.

About Those Narco-posters

The narcomantas hung last week in Morelos are reported to be the work of municipal police officers from Cuernavaca in the pay of the Beltrán Leyva gang. Upon their arrest this weekend, Federal Police officers found another narcomanta addressed to Calderón.

Another Whippersnapper

First it was Ross Douthat's new column at the New York Times, now another twenty-something writer reaches the pinnacle: Ezra Klein has a new blog at

Mexico's Military Problems

A last word on the HRW report on the Mexican army.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Reaction among Ebrard's Friends

Not surprisingly, Marcelo Ebrard's expressions of presidential ambition in a recent Reuters interview have opened up a debate among the Mexican left's many, many sub-groups. AMLO fans are (of course) saying it was premature, and the el Peje remains the favorite. René Bajerano of the National Democratic Left (and of the Ahumada videos) said he would support Ebrard regardless. Most of the rest stayed somewhere in between, simply saying that 2012 is a long way off (which of course it is) and that Ebrard won't be the only leftist with dreams of sleeping in Los Pinos. 


Stay out of Zacatecas for a while: more than 50 alleged Zetas broke out of a prison in Cieneguillas with the help of an armed commando unit. 

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Schettino on de la Madrid

He sees last week's spat between presidents as yet another example of the Revolutionary regime's basic corruption: 
We must be very clear on this point, because it is fundamental for any serious attempt to recover this country: corruption has turned into a way of life in which we all participate. That's why it has been impossible to confront it. The appropriation of public goods for personal benefit, from the secret presidential partida [a slush fund Salinas is accused of robbing] to the frenaleros [the red towel guys who informally control parking in Mexico's urban areas], is exactly the same; the use of public funds for political projects, whether it is the second story of the Periférico or cooperation with a corporatized union, is exactly the same; taking advantage of the legislative privilege, of the power of the microphone, abusing the ticket window, they are all forms of corruption that we have built over decades. 

For many, the corruption in our country is inherited from the colonial era, because then you could find some behaviors similar to those of the present day. But that's incorrect: a few centuries ago, many behaviors that today must be considered corruption were not considered as such, and they existed not only in the Spanish empire, but in practically the whole world. No. Corruption in this country exceeds by a great deal what one can find in European countries, but also in Latin American nations. It's something we have made ourselves, and it seems to me that we can associate it clearly with the Revolutionary regime. The starting point was Villa's government in Chihuahua. 

One can find other values that guided the regime during the 20th century, but honesty was not one of them. Worse still, corruption, understood as the use of public resources for private benefit, was an inseparable part of the regime. It was indispensable to guaranteeing the recovery of the economy after the Revolution, has Haber, Razo, and Maurer have demonstrated; it was fundamental to allowing the construction and functioning of a corporate regime that required privileges handed out to each one of the groups that sustained it. It was the "Mexican dream": that the Revolution provides you with justice. 

Struggles in Oratory

Watch Elba Esther Gordillo, the leader of Mexico's teachers union, struggle with the word "epidemiological". Not a good sign for Mexico's youth. 

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mexican Legends Shuffling In, Shuffling Out

Cuauhtémoc Blanco will be back on el Tri for games against El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago. Not on the list of convocados is Oswaldo Sánchez, who has been replaced somewhat surprisingly by Óscar Pérez. There aren't too many surprises on the rest of the list--Guardado, Torrado, Arce, Salcido, dos Santos (well, maybe Gio counts, given his slide in England), Vela, et cetera; now it's just a matter of getting them all to play better. 

Asking for a Hand

José Ángel Córdova has said that Mexico will seek grants from international organizations like the World Bank and the IMF to compensate for the economic losses stemming from its aggressive response to the flu. This was a possibility Ricardo Raphael brought up in last week's column. I suppose now we'll see if the international community really thinks Mexico's response was as fantastic as they've been saying. 

Burying the Hatchet

Mexican Health Secretary José Ángel Córdova and his Chinese counterpart spoke by phone today, agreeing to "effectively confront and control the transmission of the epidemic with joint efforts".

The Chinese minister, Chen Zhu, said that despite the recent uneasiness stemming from China's forced quarantine of dozens of healthy Mexicans, the two nations "maintain their friendship and their traditional relationship as strategic partners".

Exploring, but Not with Dora

This NY Times story about the Explorers program (like Boy Scouts but with guns and, possibly, testosterone supplements) earned a mention in El Universal. Highlights:
In a simulation here of a raid on a marijuana field, several Explorers were instructed on how to quiet an obstreperous lookout.

“Put him on his face and put a knee in his back,” a Border Patrol agent explained. “I guarantee that he’ll shut up.”


Cathy Noriego, also 16, said she was attracted by the guns. The group uses compressed-air guns — known as airsoft guns, which fire tiny plastic pellets — in the training exercises, and sometimes they shoot real guns on a closed range.

“I like shooting them,” Cathy said. “I like the sound they make. It gets me excited.”


“My uncle was a sheriff’s deputy,” said Alexandra Sanchez, 17, who joined the Explorers when she was 13. Alexandra’s police uniform was baggy on her lithe frame, her airsoft gun slung carefully to the side. She wants to be a coroner.

“I like the idea of having law enforcement work with medicine,” she said. “This is a great program for me.”

And then she was off to another bus hijacking.