Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Not a Huge Surprise

Alberto Aziz Nassif comes out for the null voters: 
Who to vote for? The PAN bet everything on a questionable security policy from Calderón; the PRI that continues with habits and smells from the past; the PRD is disfigured by its internal rupture and the small parties are acronyms and businesses. Because of all the above, I consider the best strategy today to express my discontent and demand reforms that our vulnerable democracy needs is the blank vote. That's why I'll annul my vote next July 5th.

Inflating Chávez

Although the coup has popular support in Honduras, it has also allowed Mr. Chávez, who is leading the international response, to claim the moral high ground. The coup leaders, who were trying to prevent Mr. Chávez from bringing Honduras into his fold, may end up giving him more strength in the region.

[Break]

Across the Spanish-language news media, the recurring image of the last two days has been that of Mr. Chávez and his allies working furiously for Honduran democracy.
I disagree, both in the idea that Chávez is unequivocally leading the international response, and that his is the dominant image in the Spanish media. On the latter point, Mexico may offer an unrepresentative portrait, but Chávez, despite his blustering, has received less attention on the matter than Calderón and much less than Zelaya himself. The El Universal editorial hardly mentioned him, and most of the commentary here has been pretty similar in that regard. Chávez has never appeared on the internet headlines of the major newspapers in regard to Honduras. I don't get as much of my news from TV as I do from print, but it hasn't seemed like he was all over the airwaves, either.

In addition, this tendency to view everything that happens in Latin America first and foremost as a chance to either out-maneuver or be out-maneuvered by Chávez inflates his importance. Leadership of the international response is very much a matter of perception, and nothing adds to the perception of Chávez's centrality more than for his political opponents to be hailing it. I'm not denying Chávez's role both in the buildup and reaction to the coup, but this event is not merely round 27 in the US vs. Chávez. Vargas Llosa's take reminds me of the unfortunate Cold War outlook that consigned the region to being primarily a secondary chess board for the USSR and the US for much of the second half of the last century.

Update: This from today's NY Times article on the international reaction:
While Mr. Chávez continued to portray Washington as the coup’s possible orchestrator, others in Latin America failed to see it that way.

“Obama Leads the Reaction to the Coup in Honduras,” read the front-page headline on Tuesday in Estado de São Paulo, one of the most influential newspapers in Brazil, whose ties to Washington are warm.

More Mayoral Maneuvers in Michoacán

Three of the mayors arrested several weeks ago in Michoacán have been released without charges, due to a lack of evidence. (The other seven were formally charged last week.) This reflects a big problem with the arraigo, the Mexican legal procedure that allows people to be held without charges for up to 40 days as officials investigate the case. I'm not sure that these mayor's careers are finished, given the topsy-turvy relationship between Mexico's politicians and its criminals, but if there was not enough evidence to support even a formal accusation, then these guys shouldn't have suffered the indignity of being dragged from their office by federal troops. Somewhere, I imagine Raymond Donovan is feeling sympathetic.

In addition, the mayor of Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán's largest port and a key Pacific entry point for South American cocaine, was arrested yesterday.

Back In a New Role

Via the Latin Americanist, Elvira Arellano (pronounced el-VEE'-ruh ah-ray-AH'-noh, as the AP helpfully informs us), whose deportation made big news while I was living in Chicago, is running for a deputy seat in Baja California Norte for the PRD. Despite living in Michoacán, she is running in Tijuana. Actually, that "despite" should be probably "because" she's living in Michoacán, where the PRD is very competitive and unlikely to offer a potential seat to an unproven politician.

Shift in Sonora

In a new El Universal poll, the PAN's Guillermo Padrés has for the first time opened up a lead over his PRI rival, Alfonso Elías, in the Sonora governor's race. And it's five points. Given the size of the shift, you'd have to think that voters, rightly or wrongly, are punishing the incumbent party for the Hermosillo fire.

Another poll shows the PAN candidate up by three in the race for the governor's seat in San Luis Potosí, while the PRI candidate remains six up in Nuevo León.

Also, Mitofsky's June polling is out. It shows the PRI with a more than five-point lead (32.5 percent to 27 percent) in voter preference in the Chamber of Deputies race. When accounting for probable voters, that lead shrinks to 4.7 percent. After running the numbers, Mitofsky concludes that the PAN will likely end up with between 147 and 177 deputies, compared to a range of 210 to 234 for the PRI. When the Green Party caucus is added on, the PRI will likely be controlling somewhere between 218 and 250 votes in the lower house, or just shy of a majority. One data piece that explains the PAN's difficulties: 20.9 percent of Calderón voters in 2006 are voting for the PRI this time, while only 7.6 percent of Madrazo loyalists flipped to the PAN.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Calderón Condemns Coup

From an appearance in Nicaragua, here are some quotes courtesy of Excélsior:
We come to also offer our support to the Honduran people and to their president, President Zelaya, and to express that Mexico categorically rejects this break with the constitutional order; that the only way to take power in a democracy is through the ballot boxes and that armed force must not be used to violate this constitutional order.

[Break]

We endorse the attachment to constitutional principles and our rejection of these methods of action, absolutely deplorable in the 21st century and among nations that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting human rights...

A Pair of Results

Leo Zuckermann sees a pair of likely results of the upcoming elections:
Beyond [the weakness stemming from the PRI's superior numbers and AMLO's intransigence], we must add that on July 6 the [battle for] presidential succession kicks off. This will further weaken the leader, above all within his party. Surely we will see divisions within the PAN that today is disciplined through the figure of Calderón. The chief executive knows the history well. He himself abandoned discipline against the wishes of then-President Fox because he wanted to be the presidential candidate of the PAN when the favorite of Los Pinos was Santiago Creel. It's likely that in the coming months we will see PAN politicians who, a la Calderón, break with the president to launch their presidential campaign. In such a way, Calderón will continue losing power within his own party.

[Break]

Starting Monday, the PRI will have two options. One: block any reform that Calderón seeks, and with luck the bad economic situation will deepen; blame the PAN for the poverty with the hope that the electorate will vote for the PRI in 2012. Two: cooperate with the PAN to pass some reforms with the hope that they return to power in 2012; make Calderón and the PAN assume the political costs for bringing the house into order before they take control of it. Whichever of the two options, starting on July 6, the PRI will be the central political actor in this country.
I'm not convinced that Calderón will grow into a lame duck as quickly or as thoroughly as Fox did. Fox made a mistake in a) betting so openly on one specific candidate, and b) mismanaging his relationships with other PAN heavyweights throughout his term, which led to the famously undisciplined "Montessori cabinet". While Zuckermann is right about the challenges ahead for Calderón, I suspect he will manage to stay relevant in a way that Fox could not.

Also, evidently Germán Martínez missed the gloomy predictions from Zuckermann; he sees an "avalanche of victories" coming on July 6.

El Universal on the Honduras Coup

Today's editorial focuses a little less on the injustice of Zelaya's removal and more on Zelaya's actions to provoke it than I'd expected:
Just when it seemed as though military coups against democratically elected governments were a thing of the past in Latin America, another one occurred yesterday in Honduras. This regression from our neighborhood, as well as nations with similar features in the region, reminds us that two decades of democratic experimentation aren't enough to bury the shadow of dictatorships in our countries.

In a strategy that included the participation of the parliament and the Honduran army, as well as the endorsement of the Catholic Church, Manuel Zelaya, constitutional president, was arrested and taken by military force to Costa Rica. The authors of the coup respond that Zelaya resigned because of the "polarized political situation" and "health problems"; nevertheless, every country on the continent*, from the United States to Venezuela, condemned the military kidnapping.

It must be said, to explain the event, that Zelaya had his share of the responsibility. He took his country to a political crisis by insisting in reelecting himself, even against the willingness of the Honduran Supreme Court, Congress, Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and Justice Department. The military coup, absolutely unjustifiable, came within this context.

When a president seeks to perpetuate himself indefinitely in power, the different interest groups --armed, religious, or business-- acquire the perfect pretext for taking over civil control through force. It's the same risk that, though to different degrees, Hugo Chávez has taken in Venezuela and that Evo Morales in Bolivia and Álvaro Uribe in Colombia are on the verge of taking.

Reelection in and of itself isn't harmful, it's part of democracy because it ratifies the service of good governors, but when the pact between the diverse actors in a democracy is violated by acts seeking to perpetuate one of them in power, the fragile institutional balance is broken. And in the chaos, it is the force of arms that has the greatest possibility to impose itself.
*Mexico typically views North and South American as one continent.

Campaigns End, Endorsements Begin

With the formal campaign period ending yesterday, some analysts are offering their readers endorsements or suggestions. Macario Schettino implored Mexicans to vote for the PAN, for the Beltrones wing of the PRI, or for the New Left in the PRD, so as to construct a ruling coalition that can put the revolutionary regime to bed. After considering and discarding the null-vote option, Ricardo Raphael somewhat surprisingly decided on the PRD. He acknowledged the party's flaws, but said that the PAN and PRI's intimate relationship with business interests disqualified them.

Memorable Advertising

Supporting my comment that the Green Party and the PAN are the only two parties that mounted anything resembling a coherent electoral strategy, a new BGC poll reveals that the campaign ads from those two parties are the most memorable. Sixty percent of respondents could remember a specific ad from the Green Party, with 53 percent able to name a PAN spot. The corresponding figures for the PRD and PRI are 32 and 27 percent, respectively.

Lookalikes, First Lady Edition


Today's edition: Margarita Zavala and Jenny Sanford.

Who Are You Voting For?

Grupo Imagen asked earlier today whether, in casting their ballots into the urns, voters are opting for a specific candidate or a specific party. Good question! I'd have thought it was about 75 percent opting for the party, but in fact it was only about 55 percent.

Update: Call me compulsive, or call me whatever the male version of a nitpicking schoolmarm (nitpicking schoolman?) would be, but I've been wanting to point out that I am well aware that the correct version of the above title would be, "For whom are you voting?" all day long. Unfortunately, it works better in its incorrect form. I'm glad I got that out of the way; now I will sleep comfortably. 

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Draft Alejandro!

Over the past year, as Alejandro Martí has gone from rich businessman to grieving parent to public figure and moral leader, many of us have been impressed by the grace, judgment, and sobriety that he has demonstrated throughout the transition. I guess this sort of thing was inevitable: 
Alejandro Martí is the perfect leader because he doesn't represent the interests of any party, he represents the interests of the common and regular people who want results. 

If we analyze his image, Don Alejandro fulfills all the requirements of the great characters that move the masses: his size, his voice, his age, his style, his grey hair.

As if that weren't enough reason to adore him, Señor Martí is a healthy man, who doesn't have any necessity for money or power, analysts respect him, media outlets can't block him out because he is a stupendous newsman and is something of a representation of the Mexican martyr of the 21st century. 

Different Approaches to Reform

A big difference between the American and Mexican legislative approaches was on display in the most recent Paul Krugman column. (At least, half of that difference was on display.) Krugman wondered if Obama's conciliatory side would make the eventual health care reform passed in Congress too tepid to complete the task at hand, i.e. giving the US a cost-effective health care system without a significant number of uninsured people. This idea, that any reform should be final, is also evident in the frustration about the Reagan immigration reform in 1986, as well as in the reaction to No Child Left Behind. None of the three cases are the same, but they all seem to me to reflect a rather binary style of assessment: either it worked or it didn't. 

In Mexico, most of the reforms we've seen under Calderón have already outlived their usefulness. A further fiscal reform is urgent as soon as possible. The electoral reform seems unlikely to live to see the end of Calderón's term. Another oil reform package is inevitable, though not imminent. Another judicial reform wouldn't be much of a surprise.  The only reform that was final in the way that we expect most American congressional reforms to be would seem to be the IMSS reform from early 2007. I don't see this as being held against Calderón or the Mexican Congress the way incomplete reforms would be in the States. 

Bummer of a Loss

Every time I start to feel really bad about the loss, I remind myself that one of Brazil's starters is nicknamed "poop" in Spanish, while another goes by "the anus". Seriously. It makes me feel a bit better. 

And if you want to see a climactic finish in which American comes out on top against a Brazilian, it's hard to top Corrales-Freitas

Coup in Honduras

Maybe this post's title should have a question mark at the end of it; Boz called it a "coup", with the quotation marks being his. Follow his site for details as they come. I'll be interested to see Obama's reaction; this event, in tandem the 2002 Venezuela coup, will likely turn into a useful barometer for the differences between he and his predecessor.

Update: More from Boz here. At this point, the US has condemned the events without calling them a coup.

Update 2: Noel Maurer has some analysis here.

Update 3: As Boz points out in comments, the US is calling it a coup.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Failed State Update

The 2009 failed-state index, which Foreign Policy publishes in association with the Fund for Peace, has been released. Somalia, Zimbabwe, and Sudan are at the to of the list. Mexico rose from 105 to number 98, an understandable jump given the spike in drug violence in 2008. However, the relatively low ranking is further confirmation that Mexico isn't the cesspool of anarchy that many suggested it was at the beginning of the year. 

It's odd how Peretz, Forbes, Gingrich and all the rest of the Mexico-as-hell-on-Earthers have nothing to say now.

Obvious Failure

The OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza was on the front page of El Universal this morning calling the war on drugs a failure in so far as it has sought to prevent consumption. About using the army in the war on drugs, he said: 
I wish we could have enough police officers to combat drug traffickers with resorting to the army, but I think that in some countries in the Americas, such as Colombia or Mexico, and some others that I could mention, I think that it is necessary.
More on the army here in Mexico: there was a military operation in a Mexico City neighborhood yesterday, which is an exceedingly rare event. Indeed, I don't ever remember a similar one. This article implies that Mexico City will see more army operations in coming weeks. Marcelo Ebrard has endorsed the operation, despite rejecting calls for an army presence in DF early last year. 

Also, Torreón has upped the military presence in the city to more than 2,500 troops, an unprecedented number. They're everywhere, too; I think I've seen more in the past 24 hours than I have in any day since Calderón was here two years ago. 

Sonora Blame Game

Ana María Salazar in Mexico Today on the finger-pointing in Sonora:
Ahhhhhhhhh this bickering is disgusting and demeaning…At the end of the day, there is probably going to be 50 dead infants and no one is to blame…or they will blame the lower one on the ladder of guilt…Another march taking place in Hermosillo this weekend, and also they are announcing a march next weekend in Mexico City…Will this mobilization actually matter? Probably not…You can kill close to 50 infants in Mexico and nada…nada… nada…
The difference between this episode and the murder of Fernando Martí last summer has been striking. I guess it's easier to blame someone for a violent murder than an accidence caused by negligence. Whatever the reason, at this distance from the Martí killing, the Iluminemos México march was already planned, and a raft of security legislation was in the offing. With the Hermosillo fire, you get the feeling that everyone is just waiting for the anger to die down so they can move on, which is really sad.

No Law

Emilio Rabasa sees two recent events as being connected by Mexico's lack of fidelity to the law:
Two cases without any apparent connection move public opinion. In Hermosillo, Sonora, 47 children have died and another twenty remain hospitalized, as a consequence of a fire in a warehouse illegally used as an IMSS day-care center. In the Iztapalapa delegation of Mexico City, Andrés Manuel López Obrador works to carry the Workers Party candidate to victory, Señor Rafael Acosta (Juanito), so that after winning the election he resigns illegaly, and the mayor of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, proposes Señora Clara Brugada to the Legislative Assembly for the delegate post.

What is the connection between the death of 47 infants in the North and the strategy of AMLO in the center of the country? In both cases the complete absence of the rule of law is clearly revealed.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Reading

I don't think this is going to convince anyone who doesn't already believe in a more relaxed immigration regime, but this lengthy piece in Boston Review makes a pretty good moral case for amnesty for longstanding foreign illegal residents of any nation, in this case the US. Here's a taste:
How can migrants become members of society without legal authorization? Because social membership does not depend upon official permission: this is the crux of my argument. People who live and work and raise their families in a society become members, whatever their legal status: that is why we find it hard to expel them when they are discovered. Their presence may be against the law, but they are not criminals like thieves and murderers. It would be wrong to force them to leave once they have become members, even when we have good reasons for wanting them to go and for preventing others like them from coming.

Rough Day

The PAN is taking it on the chin as the week closes: a new poll shows its candidate is down six points in Nuevo León, Ortega and Paredes took aim at Martínez over the country's insecurity (both physical and economic) in last night's debate, and, most seriously, a candidate for deputy in Sonora was attacked. He survived, but two people travelling with him did not.

Also, a PRD candidate for mayor in a small Jalisco town was killed in a car wreck yesterday.

Pugilistic Predictions

There are a couple of pretty good fighters featured tonight, and a few potentially great fighters on the slate tomorrow. In the Friday action, I like Omar Narváez by knockout over Omar Soto, and Daniel Jacobs the same way over George Walton. I also want to see Narváez fight in the States sometime soon; lots of talent and no exposure is a disappointing combination.

Tomorrow, I'll take Arthur Abraham and Jorge Linares in easy but spectacular KO wins over underwhelming competition. In the HBO bout, I like Victor Ortiz over Marcos Maidana* in what should be a great character-building scrap for the Californian future star. Rumor has it that Ortiz is chinny, and Maidana has a lot of pop, so any liabilities that have yet to be exposed could well come out in Los Angeles. But I don't see that happening, I like Ortiz by a unanimous decision.

In Atlantic City, we have the pleasure of seeing Juan Manuel López, who I think has the potential to be a pound-for-pound top five entry really soon. He should blast out poor Olivier Lontchi in the early rounds. The only question for López at this point is his ceiling. He hits like a mule, has a lean frame that suggests that he could carry 130 or even 135 pounds without too much trouble, and has an adaptable style. We've yet to see him in a war, and speculative fights against Yuriorkis Gamboa or Celestino Caballero might dampen my enthusiasm, but right now I think he has the greatest potential of any young fighter with the possible exception of Paul Williams.

Gancho is 51-16 on the year. 

*A last word on Maidana: the stylistically awkward, big-punching Argentine is one of boxing's under-the-radar prototypes. There's Maidana, Jorge Barrios, and surely a bunch more who just aren't coming to mind just right now. They typically make for a safer step-up fight than the unknown Colombian slugger from Barranquilla or Cartagena.

Fiscal Challenges

José Luis Calva says that Mexico can raise its tax collection by a factor of 10 percent of the GDP, and offers a five-point plan:
The challenge is formidable, but successfully confronting it is feasible with an integral package of reform measures.

First: widen the base of contributors and of income subject to taxation. The taxable possibilities in this direction are enormous: 1) tax the market earnings of people, as happens in developed countries, 2) tax inheritances with elevated progressiveness, which is also done in a great part of the world; 3) tax peoples' capital earnings, as is also done in industrialized countries; 4) prudentially tax foreign capital, as is the case in Chile and other countries; 5) incorporate the large and medium-sized "informal economic" entities into the tax regime.

Second: improve collection and resolutely combat tax evasion.

Third: simplify and streamline tax legislation with the goal of facilitating the payment of taxes and limit accounting practices that reduce businesses' taxable earnings to ridiculous levels.

Fourth: accentuate the progressiveness of the taxes on profits, preferably through the introduction of local taxes on income, similar to the state or local taxes in place in the United States, Canada, and other nations. Adding the profit taxes from central governments to the local tax, the maximum profit tax rate is 46.4 percent in Canada; 41.3 percent in the US; 44.3 percent in Germany; 45 percent in Spain; 43.4 percent on average in the countries of the EU; and 40.4 percent on average among the countries of the OECD (OECD in Figures 2008 Edition). The introduction of a state tax on profits would reinforce the material base of economic authority of the states; and it can be combined with direct collection at a municipal level of taxes under the small contributor regime.

Fifth: introduce a greater differentiation in the rates of the Value-Added Tax, in such a way that luxury goods and services (or of consumption that is basically restricted to the highest income stratum) are taxed at rates of greater than 15 percent, keeping the zero rates in place and the exemptions for basic goods and services.

Mourning the King of Pop


I was struck by the symmetry of the Excélsior and El Universal front pages today.

Update: Oddly, Calderón commented on Jackson's death today.

Oral Trials

El Universal wonders what happened to that oh-so-important part of last year's judicial reform:
Let's remember that in 2008 legislators reformed ten articles of the Constitution with the objective of installing oral trials in Mexico, guarantees of the presumption of innocence, an effective public defender, specific centers for preventive prison and special judges for issues of organized crime, among others.

One year later there's only good intentions. So yesterday the political interest in the theme was measured. To whom can we attribute the irresponsibility? Yesterday, in the Forum on National Security with Justice, organized by the Citizen Network for Oral Trials, where Alejandro Martí is among the many other promoters, the parties were invited to explain themselves in regard to this delay.

The secretary general of the PRI, in the voice of Jesús Murillo Karam, and the presidency of the PRD, under the control of Jesús Ortega, charged the federal executive of being behind the delay. Representing the PAN, César Nava, candidate for deputy and ex-personal secretary of President Felipe Calderón, responded to the criticisms with explanations about the technical difficulty of the reform.

There is no doubt, today the Mexican political class understands crisis as the moment in which you must toss all the blame on whomever is in front of you.
In related news, Michelle Bachelet, who's in Mexico and whose nation went from written to oral trials in the 1990s, is also a believer in oral trials.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Regulator Grows Teeth

Mexico's Federal Competition Commission suspended joint operations between two railroad companies (Ferromex and Ferrosur) and fined them the maximum legal amount (around $35 million) for monopolistic practices, in a move that Excélsior called "historic". Hopefully, they will move onto other industries beset by a lack of competitions.

More Local Police Arrests

Federal police arrested 35 local police officers in Pachuca, as well as seven Hidalgo state police operating in the region. They were charged with working for organized crime. This is a bit surprising, since Hidalgo has little reputation for drug trafficking, and only a handful of people there have been killed in drug violence this year.

The Hidalgo arrests follow the detention of dozens of local officers in both Monterrey and Veracruz.

Good Decision!

The Supreme Court's ruling that a school strip-searching a 13-year-old girl is illegal was a nice surprise, as was (even more so) the 8-1 ruling. Clarence Thomas' dissent was presumably built around this piece of silly logic (I say presumably because I haven't read the opinion):
Judges are not qualified to second-guess the best manner for maintaining quiet and order in the school environment.
That's a broad statement. What if a school decides to water-board its students, or make them stand in place for the entire school day so they'll rat out their weed-dealing buddies? Judges aren't qualified to say that is wrong? I'd say we need some more qualified judges then.

Update: More on that dissent from Alterdestiny:
Thomas's dissent (also found in the linked document above) is based around the argument that any kind of search is reasonable (given some kind of "reasonable suspicion") if it is conducted only in places were the contraband could be hidden. His logic is that since you could hide pills in your crotch, school officials could look there (there's even a pretty weird part of the dissent where he cites several incidences of people hiding drugs in their underwear... I'll refrain from snark and you let you imagine your own). He contends that school officials, parents, and local governments are all "better suited than judges to determine the appropriate limits on searches". Wait, what? Isn't upholding and interpreting the Fourth Amendment a judicial bailiwick? Where's the logic in school administrators deciding if their actions are reasonable in cases like this? Is it only different because it is a school? Granted, the court has held that there are slightly different rules in schools, but the Constitution doesn't end at the school's door. This seems like a completely ideological decision on his part, and the opinion contains a strange line in its last paragraph-- "By doing so [finding the search unconstitutional], the majority has confirmed that a return to the doctrine of in loco parentis is required to keep the judiciary from essentially seizing control of public schools". Seriously? Are you trying to make Scalia and Alito look reasonable or something?

Good Suggestion

Calderón, in what may be his first comments on the null-vote movement, argued that not voting and null voting made democracy less effective, and widened the gap between the governors and the governed:
We want better parties? Let's make those parties, participate in those parties, and if those parties don't convince us, let's make others.
I couldn't have said it better myself. Calderón also called for legislative reelection, and reminded the audience that he had sponsored a bill to make congressmen and mayors eligible for reelection when was in the Chamber of Deputies in 2002.

More Evidence of the Lack of a Coherent PRI Campaign Plan

Earlier this week, more than a month and a half after the official campaign season began, Beatriz Paredes and the PRI launched their first internet spots.

Unrelatedly, Paredes and her counterparts in the PRD and the PAN will debate this evening. A previous debate had been cancelled because of the absense of PRD boss Jesús Ortega.

Sodi Up

In the most closely watched delegation contest outside of Iztapalapa's, in the Miguel Hidalgo race Ana Gabriela Guevara has held a narrow lead over Demetrio Sodi in virtually every poll I've seen. Until this one from El Universal, which gives Sodi a four-point advantage. I don't remember El Universal having leaned toward the PAN either this race or in general. It may be just an outlier, but it makes you wonder if the madness in Iztapalapa is having an impact on other races.

Untrue

UN official Antonio María Costa said of the US's southern neighbor, "Mexico is an extraordinarily violent case and a situation that has no equal in the world."

That sounds depressing, but it's actually not true. If you use murder rate as your gauge, Mexico is in far better shape than almost all of Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil, whose crime problems are caused by a combination of street gangs and drug trafficking (and, in Colombia's case, guerrillas). Experts have warned that Guatemala City is in danger of being wholly expropriated by drug traffickers in the next two years if the situation continues to worsen. So Mexico's situation is unique in the way that no two snowflakes are alike, but it's not uniquely violent.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Angling for Position

César Nava has come across in recent weeks as an unpopular kid trying to score an invitation to a party whose host has no intention of inviting him. Here he is declaring himself ready to serve as the leader of the PAN caucus in the Chamber of Deputies. Unfortunately, no one else seems to be interested. A couple of weeks ago, Carlos Loret wrote about how Nava's exit from Los Pinos had to with his disfavor with President Calderón, and how Josefina Vázquez was likely to be the pick. Two days ago, Bajo Reserva reported that Germán Martínez pointedly refused to name Nava as one of the possibilities during a visit with another PAN candidate who is among the potential options, Francisco Ramírez Acuña. So either Nava is land a job that's hopelessly out of reach, or El Universal has consistently read this incorrectly.

Lack of Strategy

Ezra Shabot decries the poor strategy from the parties in this year's campaign:
In this mid-term election, lifeless and boring, the party that commits the fewest errors will take the victory. The winners will triumph more because of the negligence of their adversaries than because of their proactive capacity and political ability demonstrated in the contest.
This is an astute observation, but the brush with which Shabot is painting is too big. Two parties have built something resembling a coherent strategy--the PAN and the Green Party. The PAN's is built on two ideas: no other party can be trusted to fight the drug traffickers, and the PRI remains a cesspool of corruption not fundamentally different from its incarnation a generation ago. While it is unlikely to vault them into the winner's circle, the strategy has cut into the PRI's lead a great deal. And although I think the Green Party is an ideologically bankrupt, opportunistic party with little to add to the national conversation, it's hard to deny the fact that it's made quite a splash with its simple electoral platform: the death penalty, medical vouchers, and education, with famous faces acting as spokesmen.

At the same time, the PRI and the PRD have really missed an opportunity to offer some defining characteristic of themselves. With the PRD, the dispute between Ortega et al and AMLO is a big part of that; the lack of an expressed identity is a reflection of a very real confusion over the party's identity, which will have to be resolved before the party takes to the task of laying out what it offers Mexico. But for the PRI, it seems more a case of, as Shabot says, negligence. PRI leaders were so far up in February that they thought simply rebutting PAN charges was tantamount to a broad electoral strategy, or so it appears. In 2012, what are going to be the baseline characteristics of the PRI campaign? Truly, anything is conceivable.

Shocking Result

The US is up 1-0 on Spain at the 30-minute mark! Gancho loves Jozy! For those of you who vaguely remember my somewhat harsh take on the US after the first two games of the Confederation Cup and are inclined to take another look for some cheap laughs at my expense, I'll make it easy on you: here it is.

Update: Holy crap, they did it. This has got to be the biggest US soccer win ever, arguably as big an upset as the Miracle on Ice, just with no Al Michaels or Cold War subplot. Wow, what a win. I'm speechless.

Martinez on Immigration, and Retiring Metaphors

Andres Martinez with some good sense on immigration:
Furthermore, to avoid a disaster like that of the 1986 reform (the lack of flexibility to adjust the flow of immigrants), the idea of creating a permanent migratory agency or commission is very fashionable in Washington. It wouldn't be more bureaucracy to serve the immigrant or to build walls in the desert, but rather an expert body that studies the economic reality and the labor needs of the country to constantly adjust the legal migratory flow. A report published in May by the Migration Policy Institute in Washington proposes the Standing Commission on Labor Markets, Economic Competitiveness and Immigration as part of the coming reform. If the Federal Reserve controls, independently of any political pressure, the flow of capital in the economy, the idea is to create an institution that watches over the labor supply, independently of legislative pressure.

Maybe it won't be this year, but when Congress considers an immigration reform that liberates millions of Mexican workers from the shadows in which they live today, it will be indispensable that the new system adheres to market forces. Otherwise, in a decade or two Washington will again be debating a new amnesty, and everyone will ask why Obama's wasn't the last one.
As far as when the reform will come around, it looks decreasingly likely that it will be this year. I'm still not sure that it's better than even money in Obama's first term, unfortunately.

Update: I forgot to include the metaphor that I want to retire: can we stop referring to undocumented immigrants as being "in the shadows"? Please? It's so painfully trite, and has been for some ten years. How about, Under the rocks? Behind the curtains? Skulking dangerously about the margins--OK maybe that last one doesn't work so well.

Hermosillo Recriminations

Sonora Governor Eduardo Bours has been giving press conferences the past couple of days to defend his government in the wake of the arrest seven Sonora officials (as well as one colleague at the federal level). He said yesterday that the IMSS lawsuit could not have proceeded without the approval from Calderón, and added that each of the last two IMSS directors (Daniel Karam, who brought the lawsuit, and his predecessor Juan Molinar) should also be investigated. This led to a denial from Fernando Gómez-Mont that Calderón had anything to do with the lawsuit, and a demand that Bours be respectful in his declarations about the president.

Forecast, and Suggestion

The OECD is predicting an 8-point decline in Mexico's GDP for 2009, before rebounding somewhat to 2.8 percent growth in 2010.

Also, via the Mexico Institute, here's a piece suggesting that Mexico cut off its oil exports now. I think it undersells (indeed, doesn't even mention) the government's reliance on oil revenue, but the underlying concept --that Mexico should reduce its reliance on oil before nature does so forcibly-- is sound.

Today's Signs of the Decline in Pop Culture

Rap's really lost some of its edge since the days of Tupac-Biggie, wouldn't you say? Not that that's a bad thing, what with the violent deaths of each of the above. But if Tupac and Biggie were a shot of moonshine, the feud between Will.I.Am and Perez Hilton is like a sippee cup of watered down apple juice.

Also, the Moneyball movie will certainly live on as one of the most ill-conceived ideas this side of cubed-shaped tires, but it will evidently not see the silver screen. Thank you. Now, let's hope for the same fate with the Facebook biopic.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On the Radio with Silvio Canto

Silvio Canto invited me onto his radio show to talk about politics, the economy, and foreign coverage in Mexico. You can (and should!) listen here.

Apropos of Nothing, but Kind of Funny

A bobcat was found walking the streets of Mexico City yesterday, reportedly showing signs of aggression and stress. Just like the rest of us from the provinces after a few minutes in DF's traffic. 

An Odd Mix: Televisa, Martí, Null Votes, the Green Party, and a Sinking Electoral Reform

There's a lot packed into this post:

First of all, background: as an alternative to the null-vote movement, Alejandro Martí called for Mexicans to vote only for politicians who signed a pledge called, My Vote for Your Commitment, which his group (SOS) wrote and sent to 196 candidates. Thus far, 97 candidates have signed, among them César Nava and Demetrio Sodi.

José Antonio Crespo sees Martí's maneuver, and the support it's received from Televisa, as a "Trojan Horse" with the ultimate goal of destroying the 2007 electoral reform.
Next, Televisa focused its battering rams on the null vote, promoting with great fanfare Martí's project as more productive and sensible. [Yes, much in the way that I promote bathing as a sensible alternative to not bathing.] It's sufficient to see the reaction from the broadcasters' institutional opinion programs. The political parties, their legislative coordinates and other hierarchies immediately welcomed Martí's proposal, whose notarized signature will imply willingness to sink the electoral reform. In exchange for a few effective votes, parties and candidates are willing to sign anything that is put in front of them. Of course, a notarized promise is maybe less effective than the "blank check" that is the null vote, according to Martí. But it's a fact that the broadcasters will make sure that the new legislators will fulfill at the very least their commitment in regard to the electoral reform (the rest of the points, probably, will be less important to them). So then, Televisa, by broadcasting and being covered by Martí's option, will try to pull the parties' chestnuts from the fire...and later theywill come to collect for the favor, without a doubt.

6) So we can infer that Martí's project --and not the null-vote movement-- is the real the "Trojan horse" of the broadcasters. Is it a coincidence that the Green Party candidates --a hard-core defender of the broadcasters-- have been the first to sign the Martí proposal? Ironically, those who vote for the candidates who sign the Martí agenda --properly notarized-- will be voting also for the extinction of the electoral reform. Perhaps to those who hope (as I do) to see the mode of communication revived, instead of disappearing, it would be better for them to annul their vote, instead of voting for one of the candidates or parties that has committed with Martí to put a bullet into the head of the electoral reform.
Ricardo Raphael also is struck by the willingness of Televisa to thumb its nose at the state, and the unwillingness of Calderón's government to squash said thumb-nosing:
The most recent episode in the saga of tensions between the IFE and the broadcasters works as an example. The magazine TV y Novelas, a Televisa publication, scored interviews for the last issue with actors Raúl Araiza and Maite Perroni, in which the young and celebrated actors expounded on their fascination with the death penalty and with the party that promotes it: the Green Party.

Then, under the pretext of publicizing the material included in this magazine, the company decided to advertise both interviews during primetime. It explicitly mocked the prohibition imposed by the law and, aside from that, affected the equity of the contest because it awarded the Green Party with media exposure that of its competitors have.

In consequence, last Thursday the Complaint Commission of the IFE ordered to the immediate interruption of this electoral propaganda. The response from the company merits mention: it responded that it couldn't make any change to the propaganda contracted by TV y Novelas until June 22; which is to say, three days later. In effect, the lawyers from the company had the cynicism to announce to the IFE that would transmit, during the past weekend, some 70 spots more, with worrying about what the authorities had ordered or would have to say.

We are observing just the beginning of a war between the state and the television industry, whose proportions we still don't grasp entirely.
A couple of points: first, Martí's pledge seems a bit gimmicky to me, a bit like the Contract with America without Newt. It also seems about six degrees of magnitude better than the null-vote movement, however. As far as the tacit agreement between the broadcasters to support Martí’s movement in order to sink the electoral reform, that just doesn’t get my blood up. Televisa is pushing the envelope with its blatant support for the Green Party (and, I might add, Perroni and Araiza, whose advocacy is paid, seem to be compromising their integrity as public figures), but, if I may let my Confederations Cup fever seep to the surface, their transgressions warrant not a red card, but a yellow. The broadcasters are interested participants in Mexico political system with agency all their own; they are not lifeless tools of the party. As such, a disagreement between the state and a company, even the latter’s defiance of the former, is not in and of itself cause for outrage. It would much more worrying if the government’s power over private businesses and citizens was such that differences of opinion didn’t emerge from time to time. It’s unreasonable to expect independent broadcasters not to act in their interests. From the politicians’ perspective, the idea that they are willing to do anything “[I]n exchange for a few effective votes” is even less worrying. That’s the essence of democracy, even if it leads to some ugly conflicts of interests.

Then again, I’m biased; I thought the 2007 reform was very problematic, and I think the null-vote movement is Mexican politics' version of New Coke.

Calderón's Alternative to Carbon Credits

At the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in Cuernavaca, yesterday Calderón was talking up a Green Fund as an alternative to carbon credits. Here's commentary from Boz, who spoke with a former Deputy Foreign Minister about the subject a few months ago.

Zetas in the Times

Here's a somewhat disturbing portrait of three American teens who worked as assassins in southern Texas and around Nuevo Laredo.

Free Man, Sort Of

The US government's charges against Zhenli Ye Gon, whose Mexico City house was discovered with more than $200 in cash in 2007 and who was later arrested outside Washington, have been withdrawn. There is now nothing impeding his extradition to Mexico. American officials say that should Zhenli Ye Gon be liberated in Mexico without serving a sentence, the US charges can be reinstated.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Problem is the System

Jorge Chabat says that Mexico's network of regulations and norms are to blame for the nation's dysfunctional politics, not the politicians themselves:
The political system that we have is an inheritence from that which the PRI constructed to maintain its hegemony. To reach this objective the "super party" eliminated the possibility of immediate reelection so that deputies, senators, mayors, and governors couldn't develop a power base independent from the party. This design has now benefitted all of the parties, which feel very comfortable with this priísta contribution to the disaster we now have. The other key to the political system was the impunity and the selectivity in the application of laws. In fact, to make a political career it was necessary to join this scheme whether through action or omission. In this sense all the politicians were hostage to a system because everyone had a piece of skin exposed. The figure of the fuero [the special legal exemption reserved for Mexican politicians], which functions as a blanket immunity for politicians to do whatever they want, has its origins in that system. 

So the origin of the incredible inefficiency, irresponsibility, and corruption of our politicians is in the system that we have that incentivizes that type of conduct. The solution, then, is in changing the rules of the game, not the players. That's why all the social discontent must concentrate on concrete demands that break with this perverse model of practicing politics, beginning with the rule that prohibits immediate reelection. Only in this way will we be able to channel the energy of the citizens that until now, just like heat, disperses in the universe without producing any change. 

Withdrawal

A quick and sort-of superficial example of the declining prestige and lack of ideological coherence in today's PRD: two PRD candidates dropped out of their respective races today, with erstwhile Querétaro mayoral hopeful Guillermo Félix throwing his support behind the local PRI candidate, while the PRD's choice for governor of Campeche, Francisco Brown, withdrew and urged supporters to vote for his opponent from the PAN.

Negative Video

The PAN has a new anti-PRI spot out that starts with the statement, "The PRI wants you to see that it knows how to govern". What follows is a montage of some of the more detestable figures and ignominious images of the PRI years: Raul Salinas, Luis Echeverría, the nationalization of the banks by López Portillo, José Gutiérrez Rebollo, the Dirty Wars, tanks in Mexico City, et cetera.* It closes by asking, "Cómo ves", or (loosely) "What do you think?"

I believe this is a web-only spot. As most negative ads are, it's a bit overwrought and hardly balanced (and I could have done without the images of the eyeball-opening apparatus), but I don't think it's entirely unfair to ask how the PRI's recent past affects its present. It's certainly more aboveboard than the PAN tagline on its TV ads, "Don't leave Mexico in the hands of criminals--vote PAN", which was absent here.

*By chance, I watched the video with the Franz Ferdinand song Darts of Pleasure pulsing through my headphones at the same time. It makes a surprisingly appropriate soundtrack.

Lookalikes


Another dispatch in Gancho's ongoing quest to find random people who might be kin: Megan Fox is often compared to Angelina Jolie, but it seems to me that she most clostly resembles, indeed is likely the long-lost sister of, Barbara Mori.

Keys to Victory*

Leo Zuckermann gives us a list of ten things to pay attention to on July 5:
1) Will the PRI win a majority in the Chamber of Deputies?

2) Will the PRI along with the Green Party achieve a majority?

3) Will the PAN reach 168 deputies, the magic number for veto power over the budget?

4) How many deputies will AMLO have under his control?

5) How weak will Calderón be?

6) How far with the PRD fall?

7) Who will win the governor's post in Nuevo León?

8) What will the impact be of the day-care fire in Hermosillo, Sonora, which are electing a mayor and governor, respectively?

9) What will be the end result of the Iztapalapa dispute?

10) What will be the impact of the null-vote movement? (The ten points are paraphrased.)
I'd add what happens more generally in the governor's races. Of the six states electing a new executive, two are presently governed by the PAN (San Luis Potosí and Querétaro), and four by the PRI (Nuevo León, Sonora, Campeche, and Colima). I'd say that if the four-two split holds, the winner is the party that snags Nuevo León (which is neck and neck, but leaning toward the PRI). Right now, the only place that seems a better than even bet to stay with the PAN is San Luis Potosí; if the July 5th result is five down and one up, that borders on disaster at the state level, too.

*If Gancho was bankrolled by some big-time corporate cash, I'd hire Teddy Atlas or a football color guy to read this read this post as though it were his pre-fight analysis. Until then, I can only dream.

Sued

IMSS has sued the state government of Sonora (specifically the secretariat of finance) and the owners of the ABC Day-Care center, where 47 toddlers were killed in a fire several weeks ago. The specific complaints are that there was no fire alarm, nor a fire escape, nor any fire extinguishers, nor any smoke detectors in the center.

It seems odd that the national public health system (and official day-care administrator) would be bringing the civil suit rather than the parents of the children who died, but then Mexico's legal system often leaves me scratching my head. Take this line:
[IMSS chief] Daniel Karam clarified that the lawsuit doesn't exempt IMSS from fixing what is wrong and responding to circumstances that must be attended to with urgency; the principal example, he said, was guaranteeing the security of young children.
The implication seems to be that IMSS had a role in not overseeing the day-care operations with all due vigilance, which makes it even weirder that they are the ones bringing the action.

Upping the Ante

Another 1,500 troops have been sent to Juárez, which has spiraled into lawlessness once more.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mayoral Polls

Scanning the list of polls of various mayoral races from Mitofsky, one characteristic common to all of them leaps out: the PAN candidate is in second place in every one. There's Cuernavaca (the PAN candidate is down 46 to 37 to the PRI candidate), the Miguel Hidalgo delegation in Mexico City (the PAN's Demetrio Sodi is a point behind the PRD's candidate, Olympic medalist Ana Gabriela Guevara), Cajeme, Sonora (the PAN is 16 points behind the PRI), Hermosillo (the PAN is down five here, again to the PRI), and Colima (the PAN has an 18-point disadvantage, with the PRI again in front). Those are only five examples, but if the PAN is looking for a lower-level silver lining to what is likely to be a bit of a downer on the federal side on July 5th, there's nothing too promising here.

Update: One place where the PAN does have an edge is in the San Luis Potosí governor's race, where it leads by three points, with the PRI running in second.

Another update: Most of the polls I'd seen from the Colima governor's race gave the PRI a sizeable advantage, but this one from the Diario de Colima (which was carried out in late May) places PAN candidate Martha Sosa within half a percentage point of her priísta opponent, Mario Anguiano. I don't know that newspaper and it's quite possible if not probable that it's not reliable (most of the polls I've seen put Sosa between 10 and 15 points down), but something to keep an eye on.

Security Polling

Mitofsky had some interesting polls on security earlier this week (as well as lots of local election polls, but more on those later). Almost three quarters of those polled say that crime has gotten worse, but, mirroring the dichotomy in Calderón's approval rating versus the nation's general level of dissatisfaction, Calderón isn't taking a lot of heat. More than 70 percent of respondents said they live in fear of a kidnapping, with a slightly higher number expressing concern about robbery. More than 70 percent said that access to drugs is relatively easy, the highest figure ever revealed in this poll. 

Despite the above, 47 percent say that the government's anti-crime operations have been a success, against only 30 percent who say they have been a failure. This figure has jumped around a far amount during Calderón's term, but 47 is about average, and marks a four-point surge since February. Just over half of those polled said that Calderón's government has done a lot to take on crime, against 48 percent that said he had done little or nothing, which is the first time the result has been in the black for Calderón, so to speak. Moreover, in the North, where insecurity is most rampant, 65 percent said that Calderón had done a lot to address crime. 

Onto the army: 80 percent of those polled expressed support for the use of the army in fighting organized crime, against 15 percent who do not. The 80 percent is actually a five-point decline since last November, perhaps a reflection of the HRW report about army abuses, or perhaps of the recent arrests of army officers for feeding information to Chapo Guzmán. Or maybe it was just a random meander. Again, support for the army is highest in the North, where drug violence is worst, and where army deployments are concentrated. Two out of every three Mexicans say they'd like to see an aggressive anti-drug operation in their town like they see elsewhere, which could be significant, but is actually a little too vague to make heads or tails of. Were only those living in cities without a significant federal presence polled? What do they mean by "an operation like those in other places"? That could be Torreón, Juárez, or Iraq.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Satisfied

Now that 27 of the 30 state and municipal officials arrested in Michoacán last month have been formally charged and transferred to prison, previously indignant governor Leonel Godoy says he is satisfied (at least, more satisfied) with the legality of the operation. Also, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas says that the electoral calendar played a role in the arrests. 

Parallel

Macario Schettino sees the moral superiority in those at the head of the null vote movement as analogous to the operating worldview of el Peje
When a group operating in politics is convinced of being morally superior to the rest, the base of democracy, equality, is placed at risk. The great advance of the West, which made democracy as we know it possible, was to separate political decisions from religion, which tend to be a source of very strange moral beliefs. That's those operating in politics convinced of being morally superior to the rest are, in reality, deeply conservative, regardless of their position in the political geometry. 

The most recent extreme case of this moral superiority is, without a doubt, López Obrador, and that's why this writer was so vehemently against him during the campaign in 2006. The moral superiority that this politicians believes he has borders on dementia, as his recent stunt in Iztapalapa clearly showed. That's why he proposes to "save Mexico", because it is based on a moral position in which he believes himself absolutely superior to everyone else. Starting last Tuesday, "Juanito" is inferior to López Obrador because he must resign the post of delegate, should he win; Ebrard is inferior, because he must propose the Señora Brugada as a replacement; the Legislative Assembly of Mexico City is inferior, because it must ratify the orders of the illuminated one. 

Thinking that this politician and his followers are democrats requires much obfuscation. Such is not the case, and perhaps that's why his attacks on everyone else are so vehement: they come from a position of superiority. They are good, and everyone who disagrees is bad. 

Follow-Up


Per my comment that no Mexican media outlet was showing a lot of interest in the Iran elections, La Jornada found room on its front page for Iran coverage each of the past two days. Kudos Jornada. As far as El Universal and Excélsior, nothing comparable. I don't read Milenio or Reforma as regularly (especially the latter, because they charge for online content, the misers), but as far as I know they've not had much coverage either. 

AMLO Pushback

A leader of a major current in the PRD called el Peje's maneuvers this week "schizophrenic", while Jesús Ortega has been making noise about expelling him from the party after the elections. I've pondered this some 16,000 times since the end of 2006, but could the moderate Mexican left be on the verge of definitively distancing itself from the AMLO albatross? 

Friday, June 19, 2009

Catholic Misconduct

Gatopardo builds a long piece in the latest issue about the Legionnaires of Christ and Marciel Maciel around the personal account of an ex-member of the order, Chilean priest Patricio Cerda. I'll spare you the details of sexual abuse, which Cerda witnessed, but this portion about the group's financial practices was interesting:
Beyond that, [Cerda] spoke [to Ratzinger] about the methods of coercion and the precariousness in which the legionnaires who, like him, left the order. He also referred to some practices of Maciel's and the high command of the Legion, such as the costly gifts to win favor with influential members of the Church. As an example, the Chilean mentioned the Mercedes Benz gave to a Brazilian cardinal that lived in Rome, Lucas Moreira Neves, who died in 2002. "That car was parked in the legionnaires' house in Rome and Macial also used it, because he had diplomatic recognition in the Vatican...I saw that in first person and I make myself responsible for what I say", Cerda offers.

The gift-giving policy is corroborated by another ex-legionnaire that was a direct witness to it. "The Legion did things that way: give a car to a cardinal, without compromising him, but doing it moments such as, for example, when a negative report about the legion was on its way. And this cardinal then went to say, well, they [the Legionnaires] gave me a car, and every time I need to go to the airport they stop by with a chauffeur".

In addition, Cerda outlined for Ratzinger the comforts that Maciel reserved for himself. According to the Chilean, the Mexican used to travel on the Concorde, the luxurious supersonic passenger jet. One on occasion he had ordered the purchase of a round-trip ticket, from Paris to the United States, to have his teeth cleaned and to return the same day to the French capital.

An ex-legionnaire that worked closely with Maciel in Rome, affirmed that the founder traveled constantly, with specifying to anyone his destinations and why the order provided dollars in cash and a gold card for his journeys. "Even for those closest to him it was very difficult to know where he was going; nobody ever asked him those types of questions", he mentions.
The piece doesn't go into as much detail as perhaps it could have about Maciel himself, but it's revealing as to how the order maintained its prestige for so long. According to the author, although Joseph Ratzinger was directly involved in the investigation and the eventual forced retirement of Maciel, the latter was a personal favorite of John Paul II, and any real action against the Legionnaires had to await his death.

Movie Tip

Coincidentally, this story (from the Latin Americanist) about Central American immigrants being deprived of their liberty while making their way through Mexico to the US (10,000 over a six-month span) popped up on my computer screen the day I went to see Sin Nombre, which was quite good. In a couple of small but important ways, it's unlike every other Latin American immigration movie I've seen, which admittedly is not a terribly long list. First of all, Sin Nombre eschews cheap political statements and playing up the American evil of immigration restriction, which makes it less preachy and allows its characters to move beyond easy stereotypes. Additionally, the fact that it deals almost exclusively with the passage through Mexico rather than the difficulties awaiting in the US gives it a tighter narrative arc. Here's Chris Orr's review from April.

Should We Have Seen it Coming?

Denise Maerker, who has previously expressed sympathy for AMLO and his cause, wonders if he's changed since before the 2006 elections:
Is the Andrés Manuel that we saw on Tuesday in Iztapalapa the same one that managed to convince 15 million Mexicans choose him in 2006? Is the man with a tough appearance, defiant attitude, and arrogant strategy the one who conquered millions during his years on the campaign? I couldn't stop asking myself these questions while I watched and rewatched the images of the meeting in Iztapalapa. Did he trick us or not? Did the defeat change him or did it only exacerbate his worst side?

But, what did we see? To start, the act itself, defiant and self-satisfied. While he shared his great plan to mock the decision of the Electoral Tribunal, Andrés Manuel looked euphoric, he seemed to be saying that he wasn't going to let one get away, and that if anything gets in his way, he always finds a way around it. And it's a given that if it's about him, it doesn't matter if the path is eccentric and anti-democratic, it's valid because it's his. It's that simple. Hence, the humiliating tone.

[Break]

Did we have any indication that López Obrador was like this? I'd like to say no, but the truth is that we did; attributes that without a doubt the loss has accentuated: his contempt for those marched against insecurity, his "cállate chachalaca" [a famous insult of Vicente Fox], the tolerance for his guys, the intolerance of others, his decision to not go to the first debate, the made-up polls.
As Maerker points out, one person who famously did see through AMLO before election was Enrique Krauze.

Lots of Scraps

There are loads of good matchups this weekend. I'll take Fernando Beltrán over Monty Meza Clay by decision in what should be an entertaining matchup of featherweights on ESPN tonight. I like Adrian Diaconu by Jean Pascal by decision in what'll be a great atmosphere in Montreal. (Side note: promoters should do more to build them around great fighters hailing from regional towns, a la Montreal and, to a lesser extent, Saint Louis.) Edgar Sosa will knock out Carlos Mela in Monterrey. Wladimir Klitschko is going to jab and hook is way to a boring knockout of Ruslan Chagaev. And lastly, I like Michel Rosales in a knockout of Luis Fernando Uribe in Ensenada.

The Ladies Running the Show

Martha Sosa, PAN candidate for governor in Colima, says that Mexico is prepared for a female president, and Josefina Vázquez is the woman most prepared to make a run.

I asked a couple of women about this yesterday, and they basically said that they'd have no added inclination to vote for her because of her gender, which seems fair. One told me that "charisma" and "likability" are more important than gender, which I think is a feeling that you see in lots of voters. Ultimately, I think women are going to have a harder time crossing the "charisma" threshold, because politicians in Mexico who exude charisma do so via showing off their huevos and plausibly coming across as your cuate. (Fox is the best example of this.) These are stereotypical male virtues. Until "charisma" is recalibrated a bit, women are going to have an uphill battle.

Making Everyone Happy

This is a day late, but still noteworthy: convicted kidnapper Florence Cassez will finish her sentence in Mexico, not in France, as Nicolas Sarkozy had lobbied. This is one of those rare instances in which every political force in Mexico is united, even if that fact is uncomfortable for them all.

Tiresome Tactic

The second sentence of George Will's last column:
[Obama's] subject -- aside from himself, as usual -- was the bill by which Congress authorized the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco.
This reference to Obama's narcissism is a) a proven loser; they tried to make him the Paris Hilton of politics in last year's campaign; b) ironic, given that conservatives are slamming Obama for not sticking himself conspicuously into the Iran conflict, an act that is much more about Obama looking good rather than achieving a specific result that we want. Which is to say, it would be a narcissistic move; and c) totally unsubstantiated.

Here's George W. Bush's first inaugural address, and here is Obama's. The former includes the word "I" eleven times, the word "my" three times. Obama's address includes the word "I" three times, the word "my" just once. I'm not pretending that this is a comprehensive rebuttal, but could Will put forth an argument to support this charge beyond the vague idea that he is a leader of the "me" generation?

Bad Reporting

Newsweek's recent profile of Chapo Guzmán is one of the most error-riddled Mexico pieces I've ever seen in the American media. Among the mistakes:
El Chapo's top enforcer, a man named Santiago Meza Lopez...
Santiago Meza, el Pozolero del Teo, is not el Chapo's top enforcer. Indeed, it's not clear that he was anyone's enforcer; his thing was dissolving dead bodies, not killing them himself. He worked primarily in Tijuana, where el Chapo's presence is small, for Teodoro García.
From this point, steep dirt trails wound through mountains and canyons, navigable only by all-terrain vehicles known here as quatromotos.
The word in Spanish for ATV is cuatrimotos, not quatromotos.
He'd gone underground, thanks in part to President Felipe Calderón's all-out war on the drug cartels—2,500 troops were now based in Culiacán and carrying out daily raids—but also because of a bloody feud with a former close ally and boyhood friend, Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, nicknamed Mochomo ("Redhead").
This isn't really wrong, but the standard explanation is that Chapo is at war with Arturo Beltrán, who is the chief of his group. Alfredo has been in jail since January 2008. Also, "Mochomo" is usually translated as "fire ant", not "redhead". Indeed, Alfredo Beltrán Leyva doesn't have red hair, at least not in this photo.
Calderón has made the arrest of El Chapo and other top drug figures a priority...
Actually, Calderón has made this goal secondary to undercutting kingpins' key operators and financial networks.
All told, drug violence in Mexico last year killed 7,500 people.
The PGR count is 5,600 dead in 2008 (unless it's been surreptitiously revised upward, which I suppose is possible). Some informal counts rise to about 6,500. I've never seen any number, reliable or otherwise, placing the number of those killed in 2008 at 7,500.
The boy was a troublemaker who, like Escobar, fell into petty crime. In his 20s he reached out to the powerful Guadalajara cartel, then run by Miguel (El Padrino) Félix Gallardo, and was made a lieutenant in the organization. Unschooled but a natural administrator, Guzman was soon supervising the movement of tons of cocaine and marijuana each month across a network of rural airstrips inside Mexico. After Gallardo was captured and extradited to the United States in 1989, Guzman started his own organization, known as the Federación, with a tight circle of associates who had grown up together in the hills.
First of all, Félix is Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo's primary last name, not Gallardo. That's a bit like referring to LBJ as Baines. Second, in comparison to the standard version, the author oversells Guzmán's role in the immediate post-Félix landscape. The organizations that came out of his arrest are usually attributed to Félix himself, not Chapo, who was barely into his 30s at that point. Third, the comparison between Chapo and Escobar is flimsy, flimsy, flimsy. Lastly, Félix Gallardo was never extradited! Don't just take my word for it: in the second paragraph of the front page of the website his family set up for Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, it makes reference to his stay in CEFERESO 1, a Mexican prison. Fact-checkers?
Then, in January 2001, shortly before he was to be extradited to the United States to face a 50-year sentence for murder and drug trafficking...
The extradition was a rumor, not an imminent event. As it happens, Fox never extradited anyone of Chapo's stature to the US.
"These guys have been protecting Guzman," says Manuel Clouthier Carrillo, leader of the main opposition party in Sinaloa, the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI).
In fact, Manuel Clouthier Carrillo is a member of the PAN, and the son of one of the most significant panistas of the twentieth century.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

An Expansive Definition of Green

The Green Party in Mexico, hardly a paragon of responsible environmentalism, has three elements to its campaign platform: vouchers for medicine, English and computer programs for school-age kids, and the death penalty. Isn't it odd that not one of them is, you know, green?

Poor Judgment

Shades of Ted Kennedy in 2004: PAN Senators Santiago Creel and Beatriz Zavala were detained by state police at a Yucatán road block for 40 minutes late last night for driving suspiciously.

Falling Way Short

The US has played two consecutive meaningful games against football powers, and it is on the wrong side of a five-goal differential. And although both Italy and Brazil are world-class, neither was hitting on all cylinders coming into the Confederations Cup.

I don't think the US has gotten any worse as much as 2002 was an aberration that made American soccer fans think the team was better than it really was. Even more so than in 2002, the US is now clearly the cream of Concacaf, which really only tells us that Concacaf is very weak. Despite that, Concacaf has three guaranteed berths to the World Cup, and a chance to win a fourth in a playoff with South America's fifth-ranked squad. Given the level of talent in Concacaf, that's excessive; none of the Concacaf teams (probably the US, Costa Rica, and Mexico) are better than even-money to advance out of the first round of the World Cup, and any of them making the quarters would be akin to a historic run. At the same time, Africa has only five berths, which always leads to the exclusion of one of their traditional powers (Cameroon and Nigeria both missed out on the 2006 World Cup). Europe has 13 spots, by far the largest number, but the number of UEFA teams unquestionably better than any from Concacaf is arguably as big: Italy, Spain, Russia, England, Germany, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, and Croatia clearly are, and probably Turkey and the Czech Republic, and you could make a case for Greece and Switzerland, too. Whatever the case, the quality of play is such that Portugal and France may be left out of the 2010 World Cup.

I don't know what the solution is, because two guaranteed berths and a playoff for the third seems too small for Concacaf. Maybe the Concacaf teams could integrate their final qualifying stage with Conmebol's, and have the best seven nations make it. That way, you'd have to square off against at least some world-class teams, and you couldn't squeeze in by merely by beating up on El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago.

Reconstructing the PRI

The PRD isn't the only party with deep flaws! Here's Ezra Shabot on the PRI:
The very political institutions of authoritarian regimes tend to disappear the moment that democracy arrives as the alternative of the present and the future. This affirmation applies in the examples of the European democratic transition, from the communist parties of the extinct USSR and the Soviet bloc, to the Franco-ist movement in Spain. In all of these cases, the ex-leaders and activists of these parties ended up creating new political options distanced from the past and from their totalitarian origins or, as in the of the communist parties of Eastern Europe, they transform into social democratic options of the left, hoping to conserve their ideals of social justice.

Nevertheless, this wasn't the case with the Mexican democratic transition. It's true that the one-party system in Mexico didn't have the repressive characteristics of totalitarianism, although it did utilize corporatism as an ironclad mechanism for political cooptation and control. In any case, Mexican democracy didn't dismantle this apparatus, but rather tolerated as one more form of political expression that now didn't have the force to completely manipulate elections, or individual political wills. In this sense, the PRI didn't assume the end of absolute presidentialism as the moment of rupture that implied abandoning its "revolutionary" concept and its transformation as a modern social option, but rather it waited patiently for better times.
Good point! But I'm not so sure about where his logic takes him next.
To continue saying that it is feasible to maintaining the structure and functions of the PRI, as if Mexican democracy didn't exist, is an extremely risky bet. Although this still corporatist PRI can win state elections and even federal elections in the medium term, the ghost of that authoritarian past will continue chasing it, in such a way that it will end up being highly difficult to win a presidential election with its present structure and leadership.
Shabot rejects the idea that the horrible showing in 2006 was merely a result of Madrazo's candidacy. I guess the question is whether that leadership is capable of nominating a candidate with wider appeal than Madrazo. If the PRI's authoritarian past means that the public face of the PRI will inevitably someone inextricably linked to the worst traditions of Mexican authoritarianism (a la Madrazo), then Shabot may be right. I'm just not sure that's correct; having learned from the 2006 campaign, it seems quite possible to me that Paredes, Gamboa, Beltrones and co. could unite behind a more superficially likeable candidate (although, I hasten to add, that Macario Schettino's criticism of Peña as a lightweight remains entirely unaddressed) with a pretty good shot at winning, despite the unrehabilitated party he represents.

Even beyond that, imagine a scenario in 2012 in which the presidential contest pits Paredes, Ebrard, AMLO, and Germán Martínez against one another. A million different things could happen to make my present perception of such a matchup irrelevant, but right now, Paredes would seem to have as good a chance as any of the rest. Whatever the case, an idealism-inspiring candidate who wins a solid mandate and effortlessly co-opts his or her opponents into a governing coalition seems less than likely at this point.

More Infighting

Jorge Fernández Menéndez weighs in on the dispute in Iztapalapa:
It has been demonstrated, once again, who he is and he confirmed that, in these political currents, he is the one in charge. If before he had told the institutions to go to hell, on Tuesday night he told the leadership of the party of which is supposedly still a member to piss off. In Iztapalapa he changed candidates: he made an unknown candidate swear ("Yes, boss, I accept" responded the stunned Rafael Acosta) that if he won he would resign his post so as to leave it to the woman who until yesterday was his opponent. Against the backdrop of a lifeless act and surrounded by his leaders, he ordered the Mexico City mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, that when Acosta won and resigned, he had to designate Clara Brugada as his successor, and he then ordered the Legislative Assembly of Mexico City, which hadn't even been elected, to approve this designation. López Obrador eventually assured that he continues being a member of the PRD although he campaigns against the party, and that if they kick him out it will be because of orders of the "mafia" (no, not referring to Bejarano, Imaz, Ponce Meléndez, and the rest of the theives that have been part of his team, but rather his historic enemies that range from Felipe Calderón to Carlos Salinas, including politicians, businessmen, and bankers). And he still had time to order the PRD-DF, which Bejarano's people control through Alejandra Barrales, to, ignoring for the second time the orders of the Electoral Tribunal, to not register Silvia Oliva has a candidate. And, of course, they didn't register her.

It's López Obrador in full. Laws don't matter, nor institutions, and much less, the leaders of his own party.

Today on his morning show, Pedro Ferríz said that Marcelo Ebrard (among others) was "scared" of AMLO. I don't know if that's the word I'd choose, but it's odd how despite being a declining political force with what would seem to be zero chance of returning the left to anywhere near the heights it reached in 2006, AMLO retains the ability to impose his will on the left.

I don't know what to make of Ebrard, either. AMLO is a tricky problem, because he seems a lock to run for president as well. An AMLO candidacy with the PT would likely ruin Ebrard's chances of winning as the PRD candidate. If Ebrard wants to be president in 2012 (and he clearly does), the only chance I can see for him is to kick AMLO to the curb and tack pretty hard to the center. I don't mean to sound like Broder, but there's no way a divided left takes the presidency in Mexico. An AMLO candidacy would likely take somewhere around 10 percent of the leftist votes from Ebrard, and he wouldn't have that number of votes to spare. I don't think there's any way he or anyone else can convince el Peje to voluntarily step aside. The only place where Ebrard can recover those votes is among Mexico's moderate, independent bloc, which is ample.

More Cash

The House of Representatives approved $318 million in aid to Mexico under the Mérida Initiative. This is well below the amount stipulated in the original agreement. Also, given the problems detailed by William Booth here, that money will probably not arrive until Calderón's grandkids are running things in Los Pinos.

Confluence

Two odd trends intersect in this story (about Che's granddaughter getting naked to support vegetarianism): Che Guevara as pitchman, and PETA as farce.

Nava on Drugs (As in the War on Drugs, Not in the Sense that He Consumed Them Before the Interview)

Interesting stuff in a Poder interview with César Nava:
Do you believe that the war against drug traffickers is being won? Is it possible to win a war against drug traffickers with this strategy?
One of the complexities of this war is to agree on the indicators to determine who is winning. There are those who have suggested as an indicator the number of deaths from violence unleashed by the war. There are those who have suggested the international price of drugs, particularly in the United States, to measure the impact on supply. I think that the correct measurement, the correct measurement to verify if we are winning the war or not is the territorial measurement. Because precisely the logic of [our] operations is territorial. Recover for the Mexican state the total control of the portions of territory that have been left in the hands of organized crime.
This is an important observation. Mexico's success in the war on drugs cannot be measured simply by the number of deaths, any more than we were winning Vietnam based on the number of NVA dead. Furthermore, as far as the threat presented to the state by drug traffickers, territory probably is more important than the number of those killed, at least long as the murder rate remains relatively low. But then Nava takes the argument a little to far:
If we use this criteria we are winning the war. Wherever the police and the army are working in concert, the Mexican state has recovered for itself the complete territorial control and the consequence is the cockroach effect. The cartels are shifting territorially. We see that is clearly the case in Nuevo León, how they have returned to Tamaulipas. We see it in Sinaloa, how they have retrenched themselves toward Baja California. And we'll see it again in Baja California once the operation there ripens. It seems to me, on the other hand, that the increase in violence and the cruelty of the violent demonstration will continue as the territory in control of the narco continues dropping. This is absolutely logical. With less territory in dispute, more violence in the war between the cartels.
If we unpack that, he's saying that an increase in violence in and of itself means that the government is winning. It's one thing to say that increases in violence aren't necessarily signs that the government is being overwhelmed, quite another to essentially argue that record numbers of drug deaths are a positive sign. That certainly wasn't the argument the government was pushing when it was bragging up the drops in violence in Juárez, Culiacán, and Tijuana. According to the Excélsior tally, Mexico's on pace for a slightly lower number of deaths in 2009 than in 2008. Does that mean that the government has gone backwards in its fight for territory?