Friday, July 31, 2009

On Their Way Out?

Jesús Ortega has offered his resignation as president of the PRD to the party. Others, such as Ruth Zavaleta, are demanding AMLO's expulsion. 


I've gone back and forth with Nate Campbell and Tim Bradley for as long as the fight's been scheduled. Campbell is a wizard on the inside, and has looked great in recent fights. He can also crack enough and is precise enough with his punches to keep Bradley from walking in at will. But Bradley is younger, stronger, and has to be brimming with confidence after getting off the deck to take a decision from Kendall Holt. He's also fighting at home. I think Campbell's craftiness will keep it competitive, but I don't see how he wins a majority of the rounds unless Bradley fights a really stupid fight. Not going to happen; Desert Storm by decision. 

On the undercard, I'll take Devon Alexander by decision over Junior Witter. Elsewhere, I like Julio Diaz over Victor Manuel Cayo, Carl Davis Drumond by knockout over Derric Rossy, and Delvin Rodriguez by decision over Isaac Hlatshwayo. 

Gancho is 57-17 on the year. 

More on Procampo

Macario Schettino says the scandal isn't so much a product of corrupt application as defective design: 
El Universal has emphasized the awful distribution of Procampo, which winds up in the hands of those with the most hectares. OK, well that's how it was designed from the beginning, and that's how it works. It's not that it has become distorted with time, nor that it has been used by officials today or yesterday to benefit their friends, as the PRD says. No, it's a program made, from the beginning, for this. Initially money was given per hectare planted with corn, wheat, beans, and some other grains. Later, for anything that was planted with something. Even later, if anything was planted at some point. The fact is that money was given to those who have land. 

This might sound good, but it's wrong. Once we give money to a campesino who has a hectare, or less, what we are doing is chaining him to a scrap of land that will never allow him to, we can't even say well, but simply survive. In this way, what this program achieves, as is the case with the rest of the rural programs we have, is maintaining those that live there in their previous situation: if they were poor, they will continue to be so. If they were not, they will continue as they were. The big ranches, the expanses with irrigation, the corporate growers, will keep being successful; the miserable will continue being miserable. And that costs all of us.

El Universal is correct to divulge this information, already well known by those who work in this field. It was years ago that John Scott, a researcher with CIDE, demonstrated with all clarity that the vast majority of social programs in Mexico not only don't reduce poverty, but they also deepen it. That is the case with all, all, all of the programs for rural Mexico, with the majority of the educational subsidies (notoriously with the public higher education, which deepens poverty instead of reducing it), with pension systems (in this last income and expense survey from INEGI, the reason for which inequality grew is precisely because of pensions). 
Mauricio Merino says that there is a lot we don't know about the scandal, but that the basic facts are indisputably scandalous: 
But the undeniable thing is that Procampo hasn't produced greater equality; it hasn't helped the poorest campesinos out of their condition of offensive marginalization; nor has it served to guaranteer greater competitiveness between the biggest farmers in Mexico and the wealthiest and better equipped farmers of the United States; and it hasn't reinforced the capacity of rural Mexico, for its part, to increase and distribute income. Which indicates that it is impossible to say that Procampo has been a successful program. It's not correct and it would be unjust, even undignified even, to not correct the errant path. Otherwise, instead of producing food we will continue, as always, producing misery. 

Giving the New Newsweek Another Crack

I'm not sure if either article is characteristic of the new Newsweek as different from the old, but these two from a recent international edition (the one with Venezuela's disappearing middle class on the cover) were quite good: Jennie Yabroff's piece on Judd Apatow's movies, and Michael Hirsch's profile of Joseph Stiglitz. 

Although I think Yabroff's sees Apatow's work as a bit darker than it really is; there's definitely an undercurrent of romantic and (especially) marital discontent, but there sure are a lot of happy (or at the very least, not-sad) endings in his pictures. Most of them are closer to absolute optimism than absolute pessimism. 

Extremely Premature Review

I'm about 70 pages into Nixonland, and it's written in a light, graceful style that will be very helpful come page 600 or so. However, one unfortunate element of that style that may prevent me from ever reaching that benchmark: one-sentence paragraphs. Seriously, they are everywhere. I'm relatively certain I've already seen more in this book than I have in every other history I've ever read in my life combined. Sometimes they are piled on top of each other like an e.e. cummings poem. (Check out page 60 of the paperback edition for an example.) If the single-sentence graph appears more than once every 50 pages or so, and especially absent any dramatic change of direction or surprise, the book inevitably reads like a cheap sports-page column, regardless of the subject matter.

But it's essentially a minor complaint; the book's quite good. 

Rainy Day

Here's what always happens when it rains (as it did last night and this morning) in Torreón: intersections lying downhill (even if just by a matter of inches) from their adjoining avenues fill with several inches of water. This wasn't even a particularly hard rain, nor is this one of the worst intersections (I saw one in another part of town in which two ten-year-old boys were up to their knees). Since it only rains like this here maybe six or eight times a year, there isn't a whole lot of interest in spending tens of millions of dollars (or would it be less?) on a functioning drainage system, but it's odd to consider that in a relatively prosperous town, dozens of cars always break down every time it rains (including my mother-in-law's with your blogger driving a few years back). Incidentally, the car best suited for the intersection/ponds is the tiny Dodge Atos, which cuts through the muck like one of those Everglades fan boats.

This is pretty unusual, though; I'm not sure the upper half of the sierra has ever been covered by clouds like it was today. 

Final Tally

The final cost of the just-completed elections was almost 13 billion pesos, or about $1 billion. I fully expect this to result in at least some hand-wringing and lamentations about the excessive cost, but really, diverting around 0.15 percent of your annual GDP to elections every three years doesn't seem excessive to me. For comparison's sake, the 2008 US election, which was of course presidential and sparked unprecedented interest, cost $5.3 billion, a comparatively much smaller slice of the US economy. So maybe there is reason for concern in Mexico. 

The Way Out of the War on Drugs

Carlos Fuentes called the war on drugs an aimless war on everyone in a recent speech: 
The solution is to elevate the quality of life of Mexicans, that is the formula to avoid crimes. 
That is a certainly a worthy end in and of itself, but I don't think it's a complete solution for Mexico's drug ills. Mexico had a respectable economic performance from 2002 to 2007, yet organized crime exploded during that time period. I'd welcome some deeper examples that prove or disprove my thesis, but it would seem that the existence and violence of criminal gangs in Mexico is not much dependent on the economy. 

Taxes Staying Put

The OECD's chief of economic studies is recommending that Mexico not raise taxes until after the crisis passes, because it will hurt the nation's poorest. After the crisis, it should seek to shore up its tax base by eliminating loopholes and exemptions, and perhaps instituting a VAT on food and medicine in such a way that does not punish the poor. 

In May, a different official from the OECD said that Mexico had to either raise taxes or cut expenses, but did not seem to favor one option over the other (at least, not in the report). I speculated then such a recommendation might give the parties the political cover necessary to support a tax increase. I guess that's out the window; in any event, the PRI never seemed to consider that recommendation. 

As far as the recommendation that tax increases wait until after the crisis passes, one tricky part of that is once revenues start to rise with a growing economy, the present urgency to fix the tax structure will also likely disappear. 

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Marcelo Ebrard's second half will begin with some changes in the mayor's cabinet: the secretaries of education, housing and urban development, and projects and service have all been replaced. Ebrard says that the changes are not firings, that they had been planned for some time, and that he'd asked the outgoing officials to stay on until after the elections. I've no idea if that's true, but I expect it to stir some skepticism. 

More Bad News for Michoacán

It's not all about La Familia: of the 400,000 jobs held by Mexicans in the US that have been lost in the recession, about a quarter were held by people from Michoacán. As a result, remittances to the state have dropped by 35 percent. Almost nine tenths of michoacanos have family in the US. 

Procampo Scandal

Mexico's rural agricultural subsidy program, Procampo, is at the center of a scandal that exploded earlier this week. I have no special insight, expertise, original thought, or clever phrase with which to address the issue, so I'll cede the space to a pair of editorials in El Universal the last few days. First, from Tuesday:
Procampo was created 15 years ago so that the nation's farmers could compete in the American and Canadian markets and to improve the quality of live for the poorest Mexican producers. It turns out that none of these objectives was reached. In relative terms, Mexican agriculture improved neither in productivity nor in competitiveness and rural poverty has only grown. 

Procampo has been a subsidy program directed to the wealthiest and most influential producers in the country. Around 80 billion of the 171 billion handed out during a decade and a half were given to the most powerful ten percent of land owners in rural Mexico.  

Does the federal government refute these facts? In the words of the secretary of agriculture, Alberto Cárdenas, the government denied yesterday that this program needs changes. He assures us that Procampo works well, and that it is better than ever and that it has a long life left.

Nor is this official willing to acknowledge that in the program's register there appear as beneficiaries public officials linked to the operation of the program, deputies, mayors, and that there are also known drug traffickers and various family members of theirs among those listed. 

Our becoming aware of the failure that has been Procampo coincides with the info revealed in the most recent survey of income and home expenditure that illustrates the rise in poverty in rural Mexico during 2008, and also the alarming concentration of Mexican wealth in an increasingly small number of hands. 

These are not isolated facts. People are responsible for Mexico's economic inequality and in this case it is those who gave kidnapped public funds to privately benefit themselves with the national wealth. 

Other social programs, such as Opportunities, have been successful precisely because it has enjoyed much more effective mechanisms for accountability. Procampo, in contrast, supported the most favored and lacked mechanisms of control. How can you not call this a failure?
What happens in this country that we take 15 years in discovering that the most important support for agricultural production, the hallmark strategy for improving productivity in rural Mexico, turns out to be a failure? How is it possible that in this time in which so many funds have been handed out, coming from the taxpayers' contributions, to end up benefitting the wealthiest producers? How is it that public money intended to elevate poor campesinos' quality of live didn't manage to have a positive impact?

The first answer to these three questions has to do with the manner in which petty special interests linked to agriculture managed to kidnap the subsidies and public supports for their own personal benefit. In Mexico we are regularly witnesses to how just a few take control of profits that should belong to everyone. Nevertheless, this explanation isn't enough to understand that negligence that gave Procampo such a long life. 

The other answer to these questions can be found in the very poor system of evaluation over the use and destination of public funds that prevails in the country; also in the inability to quickly measure and correct the performance of policies; and, finally, it has to do with the very weak system of accountability under which we still suffer. Without follow-up, the chance to carry out necessary adjustments or set out concrete responsibilities, these programs well remain at the mercy of their own flaws and of rapacious actors. 

It would be fortunate if this experience with Procampo helped us to again set forth, for the next 15 years, a more acceptable and more promising future for the campesinos who, in their great majority, supply the immoral ranks of Mexican poverty. It's not a small issue in the government grid. With it, we lose the source of survival for many millions of countrymen. 
Actually, I do have one comment: I don't understand why politicians try to slide around scandals like this one by claiming that everything is OK. Most people are far more likely to forgive an earnest official honestly telling us how a bad situation (that didn't start under his watch) will get better than a snake telling us that the blood dribbling from our nose is really ketchup. Alberto Cárdenas: there is no government program on the planet which wouldn't benefit from some changes, and Procampo at the very least seems in desperate need of serious modifications. Denials can't change that, and you have sacrificed your credibility disputing something that seems as plain as day. 


Evidently taking seriously the possibility of a second wave of influenza, Mexico is planning to have 20 million flu antidotes on hand next winter, or enough for more than 15 percent of the population. At a cost of about $150 million, that seems like a wise investment, crisis be damned. 


Banxico revised its growth prediction for 2009 downward to between a 6.5 and 7.5 percent contraction. It had been three points less severe in the previous assessment. Mexico's Central Bank also estimated a second-quarter decline of about 11 percent, and forecasts 735,000 job losses this year. 


This was mentioned in the LA Times report from the previous post, and it is of course big news here as well: a new Veracruz police commander was killed along with he and his wife's four children last night while they all slept. The commander's predecessor had been forced to resign when his name was mentioned in a video as being connected to drug traffickers. A possible proximate cause for the killing: an "accountant" with the Zetas was captured in Veracruz earlier this week.

Gómez Mont in Juárez

Mexico's interior secretary spent the last couple of days visiting politicians and political leaders in Chihuahua and Juárez, reassuring them that the government's security strategy in the region is sound. 

This sentiment failed to convince everyone, for instance the author of the quote a below, a local factory owner:
I don't want to be alarmist, but we are all living moments of terror, because we don't know when we are going to be subjected to an assault, an extortion, or a kidnapping; when there is a failure it is because the desired result isn't achieved, and that's the case. 
Also from Juárez, the LA Times reports that the investigator into the murder of a local reporter was himself killed at his home on Tuesday. 

The New Team, a Lot Like the Old Team

The Mexican squad for the August 12 showdown at Azteca with the US has been announced. Twelve of the twenty convocados also suited up in the Gold Cup, with most of the new arrivals being foreign-based players: Guardado, Osorio, Salcido, Márquez, and Blanco the most prominent. The one big name not on the list: Sinha, who just can't get a crack from Aguirre. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Teaching Scandal

Not that anyone who's had an eye on Oaxaca since 2006 needed a reminder, but here's another example of the abnormalcy/corruption in the state's educational system: a local fixer was reported to have been selling plazas (tenured positions) in Oaxaca schools for about $10,000 per, with the buyer needing only to present a high school diploma to be eligible. 

One More Thing About the Post Article

From yesterday's piece, here's a quote from DEA official Anthony Placido: 
But Placido said he was concerned that Calderón was fighting not only well-entrenched criminal organizations. "He's also fighting the clock," Placido said. "Public support for this can't remain high forever. He's really got to deliver a death blow, or significant body blow, in the short term to keep the public engaged."
First of all, whatever you think of it as rhetoric, it's nearly impossible to make heads or tails of the statement's actual meaning. What in the last century could lead someone knowledgeable to conclude that a "death blow" is possible? What represents a death blow, or a significant body blow?

OK, it's rhetoric, but why is the rhetoric from the DEA always so overwrought? Generals and admirals usually sound like international relations professors. And even if military or CIA guys do make similarly incoherent statements from time to time, it's certainly not all we see from them. In contrast, it seems like three quarters of the comments we see from DEA officials are meaningless rhetorical flourishes like the one above.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New Estimate

This is a lot of cash: the National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that Colombian and Mexican drug gangs have incomes somewhere between $18 to 39 billion annually. For what it's worth (which isn't much, given the size of the range), that estimate is on the high side.

Something I've been thinking about lately: I wonder what drug organizations' profit margins are. For a retail company with several billion dollars of annual income, I believe somewhere around the 5 percent of revenues mark is pretty solid. Because they don't pay taxes, I imagine that drug runners well exceed that percentage, but they do have to fork over cash for drug production, high salaries, bribes, boats, tunnel maintenance, et cetera. All of that adds up. So how much of that $18 to 39 billion stays in the hands of the gang leaders?

Good Writing

Chris Hitchens' response to the Skip Gates debate was the best thing I've read from him in a long while. 

Gregory Rodriguez's also provoked thought. 

Good News

The alleged kidnappers and murderers of Silvia Vargas, the 18-year-old abducted in September 2007 and found murdered last December, have been arrested in Veracruz. Let's hope these really are the culprits. 

As Long As We're Talking About Strategy

This is kind of ironic: Gil Kerlikowske, the ONDCP boss whose insights into the philosophical flaws driving the drug war are well documented, met yesterday with Calderón, whose insights into the same matter are not hailed even by his supporters, and came away praising the will of the Mexican leader.

Additionally, together with Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora, Kerlikowske announced a binational effort to promote specialized drug courts, which emphasize rehabilitation rather incarceration for addicts. 


The Post has an article about demands for a change of strategy in Calderón's security policy today. Boz has the following response: 
Here's the essential problem. Nobody doubts Calderon has the resolve to fight a war against the cartels. But nobody is sure Calderon has a plan to win that war.

Calderon has been so caught up in the day-to-day fight that he's never answered the questions "What does victory look like?" or "What is the 5-10 year plan?" or "What is Mexico trying to accomplish?" Calderon began his fight against cartels without a plan for victory. He just started fighting because he saw a threat and violence. Throughout the past two years, instead of pro-actively implementing a plan, Calderon has tended to react to violence, sending thousands more troops to Juarez, Michoacan and elsewhere following surges in violence from the cartels.
Absolutely correct. But I'd also add that the same critique could be directed to his critics (and to US drug warriors, for that matter), who often write thousands of words about abstract flaws like the lack of a social compact without getting at a single strategic question. The quote in the Post piece from Gómez Mont gets at both the government's and its adversaries' lack of a broad vision:
"No one has told us what alternative we have," said Interior Minister Fernando Gómez Mont, gently slapping his palm on a table during an interview. "We are committed to enduring this wave of violence. We are strengthening our ability to protect the innocent victims of this process, which is the most important thing. We will not look the other way."
As far as what victory looks like, I'd say it is a Mexico in which organized crime is an isolated nuisance rather than a serious threat to democratic institutions, a marginalized subculture rather than an organic part of the society, and a dangerous, dead-end way to make a buck rather than a vital pillar of the economy. 

I think getting there starts with the realization that Mexico will have a significant drug-trafficking presence for as long as the US has a drug habit, which is to say, for the indefinite future. Operating with that understanding, Mexico's security agencies should aim to eliminate the threat that drug traffickers present to the government. Obviously, said threat is hard to define narrowly, but I'd start with the bribing and killing of police officers, judges, and other justice officials, which, aside from making it harder to put drug runners behind bars, contribute to the broader climate of impunity in Mexico. 

After that, I'd move on to isolating drug money, reducing Mexico's economic reliance on it, and establishing a formula for keeping organized crime out of legitimate business enterprises. Here, a broader socioeconomic approach like that advocated by Calderón's critics could be of huge help in Michoacán, Chihuahua, and Sinaloa, where drugs represent what cars are to Detroit. And officials could move on from there.

In fact, I think Calderón is doing a lot of the above, but more as a matter of common sense rather than as part of a broad, coherent strategy, because, as Boz points out, such a strategy doesn't exist. Mexican officials have never tried to agree upon a broad outline like the one I started to sketch out above, despite the fact that such an agreement would likely transcend party lines. Instead they bicker over tactics.

Catching Up

A couple of big stories in boxing while Gancho was offline: 

First, Pacquiao-Cotto was finalized. Most of what I read on the web suggests that most fans see this is as a slaughter of Cotto waiting to happen. I'm not so sure. Cotto has always done a pretty good job against really fast opponents. Against both Mosley and Judah, Cotto's jab and boxing skills narrowed the gap between his hand speed and theirs, and his superior punching carried him to a victory. If he can do the same against Pacquiao, who may or may not be a big puncher at 145, Cotto might win the fight a lot more easily than some people think possible. Then again, if Mosley and Judah are a Benz and a Beamer, than Pacquiao is an F-22. His speed is at another level, and his body movement is much trickier. Cotto won't blindly follow Pacquiao around and walk into shots the way Hatton did, but if the Puerto Rican can't answer combinations with a couple shots of his own the way Morales and Márquez did, I don't think he can win the fight on single jabs and body shots. I'm about as close to picking a winner as I am to finishing that PhD I've always pondered. 

Second, RIP Vernon Forrest. What a shame. 

Monday, July 27, 2009

We Shall See

Even with one of the worst American teams fielded in years, 5-0 against Mexico was an unfortunate, embarrassing result. But then again, it's only the Gold Cup, so it only matters insofar as it does or does not affect the result on August 12. I see two possibilities: Vela, Ochoa, and (especially) Dos Santos are now spilling over with confidence, having led Mexico to a win on US soil for the first time in a decade. Or, (hopefully), such an embarrassing defeat will be the equivalent beating up a bully's little brother. Watch out for the backlash!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

And We're Off!

Gancho is going on vacation. See you on Monday. 

Odd Answer

I was reading a magazine called Equilibrio in the Torreón airport yesterday, and I came across a feature in which the magazine asked lots of famous folks, What is Mexicans' worst trait? It's an odd question, to be sure, but Jorge Castañeda's answer struck me as even odder: individualism. Individualism is essentially a good thing, a hallmark of a free society (see the difference between the US and China for examples). Additionally, of all the traits, good and bad, spilling out of Mexico, I guess I just don't see individualism near the top of the list. Evidently other famous Mexicans agreed; many mentioned lack of identity and authoritarianism as Mexico's worst trait, which would seem to, indirectly at least, contradict Castañeda's analysis. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gouging Out an Eye to Spite Your Face

Via Boz, the appointments of Carlos Pascual and Arturo Venezuela (the incoming ambassador to Mexico and the State Department's Latin America boss, respectively) are being held up by republicans in the Senate, because "the administration rushed to the aid of Cuban President Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez by supporting Zelaya's return."

Putting aside the absolute mindlessness of allowing American policy to be dictated simply by doing the opposite of what Chávez does, now we have a situation in which our diplomatic links with Mexico, the most important of all Latin American nations, and the region as a whole are being compromised because of tiny Honduras. That makes no sense. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Funny Story

From The Day of the Battle, the chronicle of the Allies' battle with the Nazi army in Italy: 
When a soldier spotted Humphrey Bogart in the Hotel Parca, he asked how he could purchase a pistol like the one the actor had used in Sahara, which "could fire sixteen shots without reloading." Bogart flicked away his cigarette and replied, "Hollywood is a wonderful place."

Programs and Predictions

Here's a video of Calderón saying that the economy shrank by 9 percent in the first half of 2008. Why, then, does the Finance Secretariat refuse to update its fanciful projection of a 5.5 percent decline over the course of 2009, when no one is predicting a strong rebound until, at the earliest, 2010?

In the second half of the video, Calderón talks about a government financed plan to offer around $1,200 to any consumer who trades in a car built before 1999 for a new ride. The president than goes on to say somewhat sheepishly that although he drives a '93 Golf, it's still in "very good condition" so he has no plan to take advantage. 

While we're on the topic of the Mexican economy, here are three brief but expert opinions. 


Leo Zuckermann says that Calderón has a pair of options in navigating the ascendent-PRI political landscape:
The first is openly confronting the PRI. Putting their backs against the wall. Sending to congress five initiatives on the vital reforms: labor, fiscal, energy, political, and telecommunications. Telling Congress: "Señores, these are the reforms that the President of Mexico wants. Let's debate them and vote on them." This would demonstrate leadership.

I iimagne that the PRI wouldn't like to have presidential power heaped on top of them. Above all if you take into account that, in a presidential regime, when the president and congress confront each other, public opinion tends to support the former. Especially when the approval rates of Calderón are double those of the deputies and senators. 

This strategy would imply an active executive, willing to fight for what he considers should be the reforms that the country needs in the present economic crisis. And, of course, supported by a cabinet of officials ready to go to battle. Secretaries with the capacity to debate and challenge the postures of Beatriz Paredes, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador. 

Would the president achieve anything with this strategy? It would depend a lot on the reaction of the priístas who are not accustomed to attacks. But the confrontation certainly would unleash a national debate that would allow us to see what is the identity of the PAN after its defeat and what the PRI wants to do with its power, beyond winning more popular elected positions and sending more money to the states. 
I agree with the last paragraph particularly, but I think the it's important to note that Calderón's posture is being and will likely continue to be dictated by events. How combative he is depends in large part on how receptive the PRI appears to be with regard to his proposals, and I don't think we have an answer to that question yet. If the PRI puts on a pretty, accommodating face, Calderón won't be able to get away with an openly hostile stance (nor will he need one). Furthermore, I think Germán Martínez's failure is important to take into account. Calderón already had a guy in a prominent position who was very sharp-tongued and not a bumbler, but he flopped miserably. That makes it harder for him to pack his cabinet with people who see politics as a blood sport. 

In any event, Zuckermann says we should look at the cabinet for clues. If PRI-friendly figures like Carstens and Medina-Mora take off or adopt lower profiles, that could be a sign that the last three years will be marked by less cooperation. 

More Detail on the Poverty Findings

Macario Schettino notes that Mexico's Gini coefficient (0.485 on a scale from 0.0 to 1.0, with the latter being maximum inequality) in 2008 represents the "most equal distribution at any point in the century, and quite probably the best in history". He also notes that there's a great many contours (and errors) in the INEGI survey, many of which suggest that the idea of a wholesale explosion in poverty is incorrect.

For his part, Mexico's secretary of social development says that the recent findings are just a bad stretch, and that the overall poverty trend in Mexico is positive. 

Election Post-op

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs has published a thorough analysis of the July 5 elections and their impact Mexico's politics. The following passage, however, seems out of place:
[O]ne should still expect a high degree of cooperation in the just-elected legislature. Despite historic hostilities between the PRI and PAN, neither party ran campaigns that were so insular that they would breed increased polarization or enhanced divergence in their political agendas.
I'm not sure what exactly is meant by "insular", but the conventional wisdom (backed up Beltrones' comments since the election) is that the PRI will be less likely to cooperate precisely because of the PAN's electoral head butts, at least in the short term. And it remains to be seen exactly how much overlap there is in the PAN's and PRI's priorities, but so far, specifically with regard to tax reform, the two parties are at odds. We'll see how long it lasts, but I don't think that what we've seen since the election leads to the conclusion that the parties are ready to roll up their sleeves and work together. 


A couple of years ago, Carlos Slim was roasted for his dismissive comments about charitable giving. Evidently, the backlash bothered him, because he has greatly upped his philanthropic profile (though he has a long way to go before he catches Gates and Buffett). One of the fruits of that labor: the President's Medal from George Washington University, which had been previously given to luminaries like Shimon Peres and Vaclav Havel. An interview following the event with Poder focused more on his economic outlook than his seeming philanthropic change of heart: 
We all need a healthier and stronger United States. It's very hard to say when the recession will end, what we can say is that there is not going to be growth, which is why we have to try to generate jobs without growth. There are times when there is growth without employment increases, above all in the short term, but there can also be employment increases without growth, which is why we must create jobs without growth, with the stimulus measures that President Felipe Calderón announced at the beginning of the year. 
The interviewer (somewhat needlessly) needled Slim about his feelings on the increased presence of the state in private business, but Slim didn't bite:
Do you find that ironic [that after decades of encouraging privatizations in Latin America, the US is taking over private companies]?
No, not at all. I think that governments must be economic stewards and when there are circumstances as grave as those through which we are living, it is necessary for them to participate. Besides, it's clear that the government of the United States is intervening to carry out a restructuring that businesses and financial institutions require, but not with the objective of operating them and keeping them. It's the opposite. 
If only Slim would let that altruism and common sense hold over the Mexican the telephone industry. 


Non-Calderonista members of the PAN are rejecting the candidacy of César Nava for PAN president, and are refusing to participate in the election. Led by Manuel Espino and Santiago Creel, the group objected to a candidate being imposed from Los Pinos, and speculated that Nava doesn't have the 66 percent of the votes necessary to win the post. El Universal sees the Nava candidacy as an expression of the PAN's drift away from its pro-democracy roots, and toward the hierarchical, presidentially dominated structure of the authoritarian PRI. Bajo Reserva published the following take:
For some political analysts and intellectuals, the electoral failure, an anodyne cabinet, uncontrolled variables (economy, security, governability), and the sole candidacy [of Nava] in the PAN are warnings to President Felipe Calderón to share power, with citizens of his party or not. The four events are related to an iron grip; to the idea that one most govern with family, friends, or unconditional supporters. 
Today's Imagen poll asks if all this uproar could lead to a fracture in the PAN. So far, more than 60 percent say yes. 

I kind of thought after the appointment of Fernando Gómez Mont, who wasn't known as a Calderón diehard, that the president was going to back off the exclusive selection of his closest collaborators for high-level PAN posts. I was mistaken. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

Insecurity Polling

From BGC, here's some data published in today's Excélsior: 42 percent of those polled think the drug gangs are defeating the government, while 32 percent the government is winning. Similarly, 53 percent said that federal and state authorities are making little or no progress in combating drug traffickers, compared to 44 percent who said that they are making progress. Despite that, 75 percent of those polled support the present anti-drug policy, owing to the belief that bit by bit, the drug gangs are becoming weaker. Adding to the incongruent picture: 48 percent of those polled say that Calderón retains the ability to control the country, against 45 percent who say that he has been overtaken by organized crime. 

As far as the recent human rights violations, 50 percent of those polled said that protecting against abuses should follow putting traffickers behind bars on the list of priorities, while 20 percent should preventing abuses should be the highest priority. When given a chance to select between the different governmental entities principally behind the abuses, only 16 percent of those polled said that soldiers were the most responsible, compared to 35 percent who said state police and 31 percent who blamed federal police. 

The poll also covered perceptions of security in Chihuahua and Michoacán. In the former state, 41 percent said that the recent bouts of violence show that drug runners are in control, compared to only 35 percent in Michoacán. Fifty six percent say that the federal operations in Michoacán are logical and justified given the context, compared to 50 percent in Chihuahua. Fifty-six percent of those polled think that Michoacán governor Leonel Godoy knew of the links between his half-brother and La Familia, and 48 percent say he should resign. 

The PRI's (Lack of?) Responsibility

Jorge Chabat worries that when the PRI's short-term electoral interests diverge from those of Mexico as a whole, the former will win out: 
The coordinator of the PRI senators, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, warned the Finance Secretariat that it must choose between the ISR [Mexico's corporate profit tax] or the IETU [Mexico's corporate alternative minimum tax] but that both taxes together are unsustainable. Obviously, getting rid of taxes is very popular and it will help the PRI win votes. It won't resolve the problems of the nation but it will help the PRI maintain power. 

The same could happen on the issue of drug trafficking. For years the PRI dealt with this problem with same logic: it tolerated the problem so that violence wasn't generated with the goal of maintaining stability and a certain popular support. And in that regard we keep hearing voices that openly or implicitly call for a return to said policy, even from narcos. Nevertheless, a policy of that sort seems to resolve the problem, but it doesn't: it only postpones it and, in the end, aggravates it until eventually it becomes a crisis. 

The PRI has without a doubt a great responsibility as the primary force in the Chamber of Deputies. It would be nice if its conduct were up to the standard of the new role it must play. 

Raphael on La Tuta

Ricardo Raphael follows up an interesting hypothesis about the purpose of the interview with the leader of La Familia with a insightful observation: 
La Tuta's message used the president as a decoy of interlocution, but in reality it was directed to La Familia's social base (to the active members of the criminal mafia and also to the populations that support, protect, and nurture the organization) with the objective of explaining and justifying their violent acts, in the present and those to come. 

Perhaps the gravest failure committed during this complicated campaign of the Mexican state against organized crime has been the systematic absence of a more sociological and anthropological analysis, geared toward the relationship that mafias maintain with the population from which they come. 

A much greater focus has been dedicated to the study of the military and police strategy, to the judicial and institutional perspective, to the economic questions, but very little energy has been devoted to the social and psychological dimension of this issue.

Why are entire communities complicit in this form of delinquency? Why is that these communities protect the interests, as if they were their own, of the sworn enemies of the state?

A High Proportion

An academic named Edgardo Buscaglio says that 85 percent of the legal economy has been "infiltrated" by La Familia. I've not read the full report (can't find it), but I think the details here are essential. "Infiltrated" could mean a lot of different things. If that means that 85 percent of the economy is within, say, three degrees of separation from La Familia, I'm not sure that's such a surprising figure. If he means that 85 percent of the economic activity is linked to La Familia, that's a huge number. So large, in fact, that it almost defies credulity. Michoacán is responsible for 2.1 percent of Mexico's almost $900 billion GDP; by my calculations, controlling 85 percent of the economy would mean revenues of around $15 billion annually for La Familia, which strikes me as very high. 

Explaining the Dueling Arrests

The attorney general of Mexico City said that there isn't necessarily a contradiction implicit in the (federal) arrests of a band that confesses to having killed Fernando Martí, when another band was arrested (by local forces) for the same crime last year. Instead, he suggested that La Flor and Los Petrociolet are part of the same kidnapping network. The statements following the Friday arrests implied otherwise. 

Explaining the Violence

Via Mexfiles, the UN has found that Mexico cut marijuana production by around 40 percent from 2007 to 2008. Marijuana accounts for an estimated 60 to 70 percent of Mexico's drug profits, so that amounts to an industry-wide 25 percent decline in revenue in one year! Talk about an economic crisis; that's simply astounding. Such a drop had to lead to violence, as well as a spike in other crimes like extortion and kidnapping. Policy makers should be wary of such radical alternations of the industry. I'm not sure if Calderón's people were aiming for a specific target, nor do I have much of an idea of what an ideal annual drop-off might be (between 5 and 10 percent?), but they should aim to not have a 25 percent revenue reduction in profits in one year. Even if you believe in drug prohibition, to reduce any large industry by 40 percent in one year is bound to create serious disruptions, and said disruptions will inevitably be violent when it comes to drug traffickers. 

Update: In comments, Malcolm Beith digs a little deeper into those numbers: 
i knew something struck me as wrong about this calculation about marijuana production decline. the reason: the UNODC (which released its latest report in June) uses two sources for 2007 and 2008 production. the second, the 15,800 tons figure, is from State Dept. the second, for the year before, is 27,806 tons. but that is based on a questionnaire submitted directly to the mexican gov't.
interestingly, the State Dept's figures come from the PGR too, but in their report (released in feb. and from which the UN took its second figure) there is no production estimate for 2007. but there is one for 2006, and that is 15,500 tons. 27,806 tons would be a huge anomaly for 2007, so my guess is that someone fudged the UN figure for 2007, to make it look like there was a huge drop – thanks to the drug war effort, of course.

Guanajuato's Failure

El Universal ran a rather long piece purportedly about Germán Martínez's strategy to translate the PAN's success in Guanajuato to the rest of the nation. In fact, the article had more to do with the economic problems facing Guanajuato thanks to the crisis and to a long-term strategy of maquiladora-led growth, but it was still interesting. I think it gets at a larger problem for Mexico's political leaders in the next decade or so: American consumption will remain low, and exports will not be much of an engine for the economy. That doesn't entirely invalidate the PAN and the PRI's economic policies over the past two decades, but it should make the political class reflect on why exactly growth in Mexico lagged behind other export-reliant nations, and what the decline in American consumption implies for Mexico's potential in the post-crisis economy. If for no other reason than for political gain, the PRD should be leading that conversation, but instead most PRD leaders toss out words like "neoliberal", "mafia", and "legitimate government", and pretend that such semantic cues approximate a broad outline of what they are offering. 

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Today in Responsible Governance

The mayor of Villahermosa, which with more than 600,000 inhabitants is Tabasco's biggest city, had the following explanation for his decision not to cancel public events despite ongoing threats from the A1H1 virus: 
It's all made up, that's why we're not going to listen. They can't fool us. They can fool a lot of citizens, but they can't fool us. 
I must say that I've heard similar sentiments from lots of people, but none of them governed half a million people.


Tom Watson just teed off on 18 with a one-shot lead at Turnberry. If he can pull this off, I'd like to see George Foreman come back out of retirement to take down the Klitschkos. Let's go Tom!

More on the (Most Recent) Martí Arrests

Here's Bajo Reserva's take on the competing arrests in the Martí case: 
There is no end to the irony that in a country in which 98.5 percent of crimes go unpunished, there is a case in which there are two many guilty parties. Such was the case yesterday with the capture and presentation of the members of the group Los Petriciolet, allegedly responsible for the kidnapping and murder of the teens Fernando Martí and Antonio Equihua. These crimes didn't merely cause a great social impact at the time, but they also generated huge pressure for the authorities. The issues is that months ago, the capital city justice department had already arrested the parties allegedly involved in the diabolical murder of young Martí, among them Sergio Humberto Ortiz Juárez, El Apá, and Lorena González Hernández, La Lore. The presentation by the federal Secretariat of Public Security of another group yesterday raised all sorts of speculation. Were there scapegoats? Did the two groups operate as independent cells? Is it all due to a confrontation between federal and capital city authorities? The controversy is just beginning.
Here's Ricardo Alemán, who saw the original arrest as a complete charade, on the same subject:
We stated in Itinerario Político on September 11: "When the media truth supplants the plain truth, and when media judgment replaces legal judgment, the least of our laments is the failure of politics and politicians: of the state itself. No one knows with absolute certainty, based on the scientific evidence, if Sergio Ortiz is really the chief of the band La Flor. No judge has blamed anyone for the Martí crime. But the media judge has already found him guilty. 

It was noteworthy that in 2008, when the government of Mexico City accused el Apá for the Martí crime, Calderóm --through Juan Camilo Mouriño-- applauded Marcelo Ebrard. We said then: "It was urgent that for the sake of public opinion that the governments of Ebrard and Calderón resolved the Martí crime. There exists a sort of symbiosis of power. If it goes badly for one, he pulls the other to the edge. That's why there is a lot of evidence that we witnessed a sort of "political rescue". Both are interested in resolving, however possible, this case. So both have leapt over the barrier set down by Alejandro Martí"...

But what happened? Why did the agreement break? Because with the appearance of the real Martí criminal, Calderón draws a line in front of Marcelo. Something broke.

Don't Do It

Former PRD interim chief Guadalupe Acosta said yesterday that if Marcelo Ebrard carries out the plan to hand Rafael Acosta's Iztapalapa post to Clara Brugada, that such would be a clear sign that Ebrard still answers to AMLO and has "neither the size nor the authority" to be candidate for the presidency. That seems like a narrative that could get a lot of traction. I'm not sure what potential candidate would be preferable to Acosta and co., but I guess that's a question for another day. 

Rumor Mill

Salvador García Soto says that the PRI is on the verge of a finalizing an alliance with the Ortega-led wing of the PRD, with the only question being which other branches of the PRD will sign on. García Soto implies that the rejection of the PAN is due to Beltrones' anger at the personal campaign against the PRI in the elections. 

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Misguided Little Boy

Brad Pitt's acting inspires, but in a bad way:
A 17-year-old mimicking Brad Pitt's "Fight Club" character, who plans attacks on corporate America, masterminded a blast outside a Starbucks Coffee shop on Memorial Day, police said Wednesday.
Let us count the ways this was a ridiculous act: For starters, it's a movie. Yeah, it seems cool to blow stuff up with the Pixies jamming in the background, but they aren't going to be following you around in prison. Second, it's a ten-year-old movie. Shouldn't you be inspired to do something stupid by a slightly more current picture? This would be like me blowing up a Dell outlet in the late 90s because of Terminator. 

Lastly, after living in a nation whose idea of a cup of regular coffee is a burnt espresso mixed with hot water, I will brook no illegitimate slams of Starbucks. The day Starbucks opened a store here in Torreón (November 30, 2007--yes, I remember the exact date), I was walking around in a state of elation not unlike that of the liberated Eindhoven denizens from Band of Brothers. It's not that I don't understand the anti-Starbucks sentiment. The manufactured atmosphere in Starbucks is a bit revolting, the sizes are pretentious, and there are too many of them. While I lived in Chicago, I always made an effort to drive an extra couple blocks to buy my java at the local shop Beans and Bagels on Montrose, where everything was delicious and un-corporate. But when I was stuck in the land of burnt espresso for three years, it wasn't the mildly unfriendly hipsters who saved me, it was Starbucks.

(I read about this a couple of days ago, and I now am unable to remember who should be credited. Whoever you are who pointed me to this story: sorry.)

Bad News for Regular Mexicans

Presumably the prompt for the poll mentioned in the previous post was the National Survey on Household Income and Expenses (ENIGH). It found that the crisis has spurred inequality and decreased quality of life in Mexico; after advances in relevant indices from 2004 to 2006, the last two years have borne witness to a regression to 2004 levels or below. For instance, the proportion of national income of the bottom 60 percent of the Mexican people slipped from 27.6 to 26.7 percent, below the 2004 level of 26.9 percent. The share of the top ten percent ticked up from 35.7 to 36.3 percent, one point above the 2004 level. The mean income of Mexicans slipped from 12,433 to 12,231 pesos per month. (The article calls this a decline of 1.6 percent in real income, but I believe that would be the nominal decline, with the real incline being significantly greater with inflation from 3 to 5 percent annually over that period. Or am I mixed up?) The raw poverty number is likewise worrying: according to a researcher cited in the article, the slice of Mexicans below the poverty line jumped from 42.6 percent to 53.5 percent of the population. 

Surprising Result

The question of the day from Grupo Imagen is, Do you live better or worse than you did at the beginning of Calderón's term? Somewhat shockingly, 40 percent say they live better. 

Friday, July 17, 2009

Johnny Depp as Doroteo Arango

I just saw Public Enemies, and I quite liked Johnny Depp's interpretation of John Dillinger, in large part because I had no preexisting notion of Dillinger. Depp was filling empty space in my imagination, and did so ably. 

The challenge is going to be a lot greater if Depp stars as Pancho Villa. First of all, the iconic images of Villa are many, and they confirm that Depp and Villa look nothing alike. Villa was a moon-faced roughneck; few men in Hollywood fall farther from that description than Depp. I am trying to imagine many of Villa's exploits, from his seminal battles with Álvaro Obregón to his Mexico City meeting with Emiliano Zapata, with Depp's face stuck in the middle of it, and I am failing. I also wonder how he'll work out Villa's Mexican-ness. I don't much like filming Latin American movies in English but with a Spanish accent (see Love in the Time of Cholera for a particularly egregious example), and I really hope that Depp doesn't go that route. 

A Great Way to Undermine Confidence

The confessed killers of Fernando Martí have been captured in Mexico City. You may also remember that a group of kidnappers called Banda La Flor was taken down with great fanfare last September, and accused of killing the son the son of Alejandro Martí. The leader of the recently arrested band of kidnappers, Los Petriciolet, say that the members of La Flor had nothing to do with the Martí murder. 

So what about all those declarations last year? All lies? I guess it's somewhat encouraging that officials would be willing to make public such an embarrassing piece of information, but wow, it's easy to see where Mexicans' distrust of government comes from. 

Update: Another odd twist in this story: the father of the kidnapper claiming responsibility for the Martí murder was behind the abduction of the sisters of semi-retired TV personality Thalía. 

Tax Outlook

Via Mexico Institute, Bloomberg reports that the PRI is opposed to raising taxes, arguing that it would punish the poor. There's actually not a whole lot of detail about what the PRI does propose, but Manlio Fabio Beltrones said earlier this week that the PRI wants to eliminate the IETU corporate alternative minimum tax that is barely a year old, simplify the ISR corporate tax on profits, and even lower the latter tax. He also repeated the PRI's longstanding opposition to a VAT on food and medicine. Beltrones also said that somehow this will raise government revenue, but I don't see how. I guess the idea is that the simplification of the ISR will close loopholes and more people will be filing, but I'd like to see some independent analysis on that. 

Ominous Story

As of about a week ago, the guards in Los Pinos are wearing bullet-proof vests. I wonder if this is due a specific threat, or just a general context of rising violence. 

Obvious Story

El Universal ran a story on today's front page titled, "Is the Green Party green?" I was half expecting the link to open up to a giant NO!, but there turned out to be a lot of words explaining why it's not green (i.e., support for the death penalty, no ecological planks to its platform, et cetera). One academic even referred to a fascist strand within the party, which I'd not heard before. It's a nice, complete synopsis, but wouldn't it have been better to run the story before the election?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Creel's Chutzpa

José Antonio Crespo's column yesterday was a thorough rebuke to the objections to Calderón's government from panistas affiliated with Vicente Fox. Examining the content of a letter from Santiago Creel, Crespo demonstrates that while the complaints directed at Calderón may be valid, on issue after issue (support from union leaders, turning a blind eye to dirty PRI governors, et cetera) the foxistas compiled a record that was hardly distinguishable from Calderón's. Here's the finale: 
Now, after their debacle, the PAN won't be able to do what it should have done in 2000. The PAN lost its historic opportunity to lead and direct the democratization of the country. The diagnosis that Creel made of what happened with his party is correct. But neither he nor Fox has the moral authority to protest, because they were the first and foremost responsible for the defection of the PAN, while in government, from its democratic commitment. 
I've always thought Crespo is a bit harsh in his disappointment with the democratic transition, but there's not question that Fox and Creel are two of the last people in the nation with any right to complain. 

Oddest Idea I've Heard All Day

Let's get rid of polls! I don't think of myself as particularly pro-poll, but that's like arguing for the prohibition of pillows (they cause cricks in the necks 10 million Americans every day, you know), or coffee. Rebuttals here and here.

Mexico's Labor Market

Macario Schettino points to IMSS as an illustration of Mexican unions' corporatist history, during which the government periodically tossed out goodies that were great at first, but whose value to workers steadily diminished. Which leaves Mexico with the following situation:
It turns out that when someone in the family gets sick, [IMSS] clinics are saturated and they don't attend to patients, sometimes there is no medicine, or whatever, but in the end the benefits aren't that attractive. That's why many people prefer to be hired without IMSS, in exchange for being paid more. And that is the informal economy that we don't measure as such. Today in Mexico, of the 43 million people that are working, 14 million are in IMSS and a bit more than 3 million in ISSSTE, 15 million are informal or underemployed as defined by the ENOE [Mexico's National Employment and Occupation Poll], which leaves us with 11 million Mexicans who are neither formal nor informal (according to the definition of the poll). They are the ones that prefer not to pay IMSS, with the end result of their salary being a bit higher. They aren't street salesman or window washers, they are people trying to solve the labor problem in Mexico.

More on la Tuta's Phone Call

The leader of La Familia asked the government to "not mess with our children", so perhaps what prompted the call was not the arrest Arnaldo Rueda last week, but this: one of Servando Gómez's nephews was arrested in Guanajuato on Tuesday. 

Weak Mexican Brands

Only ten percent of Mexican chains have a presence in the international market, according to a local consultancy. Given that Mexico is the next door neighbor of the world's largest market, that seems low. Even more alarming is that Mexican brand names' proportion of the overall brands marketed in Mexico is only 21 percent. 

More Troops in Michoacán

El Universal ran a brief article from a reporter hanging out with a group of soldiers on their way to Michoacán. One general fired up his troops by saying, "We're going to kick their ass." Said ass belongs to La Familia, but one worries that anyone with a pair of nalgas living in Michoacán could find themselves in the crosshairs. Maybe that kind of thing is normal for a general to say to a bunch of nervous troops before a deployment, but it sure seems like something a police lieutenant shouldn't be saying before sending his patrolmen out on their beats. 

Succession, PRD and PAN

Cuauthémoc Cárdenas has called on Jesús Ortega to resign from the presidency of the PRD. 

In the PAN, César Nava's candidacy is official, although there is an inchoate effort among other panistas to defeat the man who would be so obviously linked to Calderón. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dialogue. Or, Mexico's Most Unusual Gang

The leader of La Familia has called for dialogue with the federal government, another example of the group's pseudo-political side unlike any other Mexican gang. The leader, Servando Gómez Martínez, called into a local news show and offered a lengthy discourse in which he accused Genaro García Luna of being in cahoots with the Zetas and the Beltrán Leyvas, implored Calderón to not be fooled by his secretary of public security, and pledged respect for the president and the Mexican military. If you read Spanish, give it a look, the transcript is fascinating. 

It would seem that the response has to walk a very fine line, between any sort of "Bring 'em on" silliness that would make life worse for Michoacán, but still insisting that as criminals, there can be no negotiation, no dialogue. As far as how to strike that, I'm glad I don't work for the federal government. 

Update: There's a difficult-to-understand video at the bottom of this story. Also, a PGR spokesman warned Mexicans not to take the offer to dialogue seriously. 

More on Godoy

The governor of Michoacán says that he wont resign despite the warrant out for his half-brother's arrest, he won't resign. Leonel Godoy did ask for his brother to turn himself in, and the PRD has said that it will not defend him.

I can only speculate about the timing, but it's weird that just days after the election such an explosive accusation was made public, given everything that happened in Michoacán during the campaign. Kate D Artigues reports today that the brother was arrested with all the rest of the Michoacán officials in May, which makes you wonder if his apprehension was delayed precisely because of the elections. But in such a scenario, Governor Godoy's indignation after the May arrests would seem out of place.


Here's a pair of analysts looking at the importance of governors to the recent election, starting with Leo Zuckermann:
On electoral issues, "as natural leaders of their parties, [governors] intervene to kick start their respective electoral machines in their states. An effective governor in the electoral arena gets up to his elbows in internal aspects of his party: he supports the like-minded so that they become candidates, he names and moves party officials, he hands out public money to party clients and takes care of mobilizing the tough voters on election day." Six years later, I reaffirm those words.
Zuckermann then goes on to name which governors had the best results in carrying out that task (though unfortunately he didn't consider Ebrard), determining that the star among the governors was Enrique Peña. He also named ten other PRI governors as well as two panistas who also delivered. The big losers in his estimation were the PAN's Marco Adame of Morelos and the PRD's Zeferino Torreblanca of Guerrero.

Like Zuckermann, Salvador García Soto uses the word "viceroys" to refer to the governors, and agrees that as a group, they were the vital electoral players:
The factor that defined the national vote to renew the Chamber of Deputies and that marked the devastating defeats for the PAN and the PRD, together with the return of the PRI, were the priísta governors, who made a huge difference and contributed, state by state with their local machinery, to putting together the overwhelming triumph of the PRI and accentuating the debacle for the PAN and the PRD.
He also mentions Peña Nieto for his successes in Mexico, as well as Eugenio Hernández in Tamaulipas and Ulises Ruiz in Oaxaca. For the PRD, García Soto talks up Amalia García (Zacatecas), Narciso Agúndez (Baja California Sur), and Ebrard as having performed well. As a group, the PAN governors were singled out for their poor performance.

Diagnosing the Left

After mentioning the failure to thrive of smaller parties like the PSD, Yuriria Sierra digs into the PRD:
That's not to mention the PRD, which lived its best moment when it handed Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas the mayoralty of the Mexican capital, because it was the culmination of years of earning credibility for its project, but they alone have blown it to smithereens. It has grown late on calls for its re-foundation, which have been heard for several years, because if this left can be known for anything it's been the radicalism that impedes them from seeing themselves in the mirror so as to realize exactly what errors they are committing, those deliriums that make them meditate when someone is clearly violating their statutes, because it seems that they are afraid and prefer to keep him in their ranks rather than starting a fight, perhaps because they still haven't won the internal battle that has them divided into various "leftist" currents that no one believes in and which made them lose votes on July 5.

Reaction to Godoy's Half-Brother

The half-brother of Michoacán governor Leonel Godoy has a warrant for his arrest out and is now a fugitive from justice. Close to 90 percent of an Imagen online/call-in poll say that the governor should resign.

More from La Familia

A passenger bus with 30 Federal Police officers was attacked in Michoacán, another example of retaliation for the arrest of a La Familia capo earlier this week. The bus had been rented by the police so as to pass through the state undetected.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

One Way to Stay Relevant

Even if signature legislative achievements are not in the offing for Calderón, foreign policy could be one (unexpected) route to some second-half accomplishments. Here he is (in an article from last week) pressing his idea for a green fund to the G-5 and G-8.

Explosive Accusation

The Secretariat of Public Security says the half-brother of Michoacán governor Leonel Godoy is connected to La Familia. The brother, Julio César Godoy, was just elected to a deputy post in the state with the PRD.

El Universal on the Army

Here's El Universal's editorial on the uproar over army abuses:
When Felipe Calderón decided to use the army to confront drug trafficking groups head on, very few voices protested that determination. Two facts justified the strategy: local police lacked the capacity to confront the power of these organizations and the federal forces didn't have full confidence to perform the task. As a result, the political as well as civil society, explicitly or silently, signed a blank check for the president to act with all the weight of the state against this expression of illegality.

In December we'll be three years from that decision. Over that time span, networks, fiefdoms and agreements between officials and criminals have been taken down. Nevertheless, the intensive presence of military forces in the streets has also had harmful consequences. Despite demands that the soldiers respect human rights, the nature of their responsibilities tends to separate them from this objective.

Within that context, toward the second half of Calderón's term, political leaders are beginning to propose a revision of the army's role. The panista coordinator in the Senate, Gustavo Madero, yesterday recognized that the country is obligated to reflect so as to establish limits to the participation of the armed forces. Perredista Carlos Navarrete acknowledged that including the army in combating crime has brought with it violations of human rights.

On the other side of the spectrum, priísta deputy Francisco Rivera Bedoya, president of the Commission of Public Security, came out in favor of soldiers redoubling their efforts, while panista Jorge González Betancourt trusts that they are capable of respecting civil guarantees.

These declarations, for now, offer an indication of the fracture of consensus that existed among the political class on this topic. For now it seems prudent to document that fact.
The only thing that jumped out at me as questionable here was, "the nature of their responsibilities tends to separate them from this objective". That's surely true, but it implies that the army worked with a heavy hand that would not have been out of place on a battlefield. That's incorrect. Had they been committed in combat, the alleged abuses would be war crimes. Or in other words, the problems of the Mexican army go beyond the decision to use it for domestic security tasks.

Obama Coming Back

Obama will be back in Mexico in August, in a Guadalajara summit of North American leaders. It'll be interesting to see how much attention he pays to the military abuses that have earned a lot of press in recent weeks.

PAN Rumors

Bajo Reserva says that César Nava is Calderón's pick to be Germán Martínez's replacement. Santiago Creel, another possible pick, wants to delay elections beyond the 30 days stipulated when Martínez resigned. The big question mark is not if it's Nava or Creel specifically so much as if it's a Calderón guy (or gal) or an independent figure. Contrary to some panistas who've said that Martínez's closeness to Calderón was a problem, Gustavo Madero yesterday defended the right of the president to influence the selection.

Conditioning, Suspending Aid

Human Rights Watch is calling for a suspension of Mérida Initiative handouts until military abuses are subject to civilian trials rather than military discipline. HRW painstakingly detailed the reasons that civilian authorities should be handling such cases here, and it's hard to argue with their logic. As long as military judges who owe their jobs to the secretary of defense are overseeing cases of abuse, cover-ups will be hard to avoid. However, I think the tactic HRW suggests is a wrong-minded. The question is whether or not a suspension of aid will make Mexico more likely to address military abuses. I don't imagine it will; instead, it will spark an outbreak of the sort of self-righteous nationalism that has thankfully been rare in recent years, at least in the realm of security. An aid suspension stemming from a foreign uproar over military abuses would actually make life harder on the would be reformers among the Mexican military and political class. American concerns would be better addressed behind closed doors.

Monday, July 13, 2009

More Voter Characteristics

Mitofsky's voter profile polling is out!* Contrary to the polls cited by Kate D Artigues, 40 percent of PRI voters are not older than 60; indeed, barely a quarter are older than 50, and the PRI voters were only marginally older than those of the PAN. The major party with the youngest voters was the PRD, with roughly a third of its supporters under 29, almost five points more than the corresponding figure for the PAN. However, Green Party voters are by far the (forgive me) greenest, with 57 percent 29 years old or less. More Green Party oddities: almost two thirds of its supporters were women, and 47 percent of its voters graduated from high school or college. The PRD and PAN, by contrast, barely broke 40 percent in the latter measure, while the PRI clocked in at 35 percent.

What was motivating voters? For PAN voters, just under 60 percent said that the economy was the nation's most pressing problem, compared to 68 percent for the PAN and the PRD. Not surprisingly, almost 90 percent of PAN supporters expressed confidence in Calderón, but less perhaps less expected, almost 60 percent of PRI voters, 45 percent of PRD voters, 60 percent of Green Voters, and 53 percent of PT and Convergencia voters did as well.

*The explanation mark at the end of the sentence announcing new polls comes courtesy of Boz. It really adds spice.


Twelve dead bodies were dumped along a highway in Michoacán, presumably more retaliation for the arrest of a capo from La Familia. No word on whether the people were killed merely to prove a point, or if they were connected to the source of information that led to Arnaldo Rueda's arrest.

Update: The bodies were those of Federal Police officers.

Admission of Failure

The Mexican army will be withdrawing from street patrols in Juárez, having concluded that despite some encouraging results early on, the operation was a failure. The army will remain in Juárez, but focused more on intelligence and police work than patrols.

Silly Argument

Trolling for Gold Cup commentary, I ran into this piece (via Beautiful Horizons) that attributes Rafa Márquez's dirty number on Tim Howard in the February qualifier to machismo. This is a parody of stereotype; I can't imagine anyone being offended by something so silly.

The author defines machismo as, "supreme valuation of characteristics culturally associated with the masculine, stressing attributes such as physical courage, virility, domination and aggressiveness", as well as the inability to weigh the future consequences of an action. Is there a non-artistic sport on the planet that doesn't value the bolded characteristics? Márquez's problem isn't machismo; it's letting competitiveness translate into dirty play, which is something that has always hounded athletes around the globe, from Zinedine Zidane to Bruce Bowen to Joel Casamayor to Rodney Harrison to Andrew Golota. Or put another way: if Márquez has a problem with machismo, every athlete who's taken a cheap shot a few times does as well.

AMLO in 2012?

David Agren, who knows a great deal about this sort of thing, commented that any hype surrounding an AMLO presidential run is probably a bit fantastical, and certainly premature. A couple of articles in today's papers concur: here's Ruth Zavaleta saying that neither Ortega nor AMLO offer a path into the future for the PRD, and here's El Universal with a post-op of the DF elections concluding that AMLO and Ortega were the two big losers, and that Ebrard came out stronger.


Today's Excélsior offered another installment of its periodic popularity polling, squeezed as always into a graphic called the Populómetro. The top scorer this time was Enrique Peña Nieto, who was recognized by 86 percent of those polled, and viewed as having a good or very good reputation by 70 percent. Calderón followed, with 99 percent recognition and a 64 percent good/very good mark. Ebrard, Paredes, Lázaro Cárdenas Batel, and Josefina Vázquez rounded out the top six. At the bottom of the list of thirteen were AMLO and Juanito, a.k.a. Rafael Acosta.

Two Arrests

During one of the many attacks in retaliation for the arrest of La Familia capo Arnaldo Rueda Medina, two gunmen were arrested for firing on Federal Police in Lázaro Cárdenas. And the other fifty or so who participated in the attacks?

Check out this graphic of La Familia's hierarchy, which shows Rueda as being just below the highest level of leadership in the group.

Questions from July 5th

I wrote a bunch of them down.

US Opposition

The US is opposed to José Miguel Insulza's reelection at the head of the OAS. The above article makes it sound as though the opposition stems from his perceived closeness with Chávez. I remember reading a criticism of Insulza that he was using the OAS to campaign for the presidency of Chile, which seems like a much more valid reason to dump him. The article also mentions his ineffectual response to the Zelaya coup, with Arias playing the role that should arguably be his. But the accusations from right-wing think tanks that he laid down before Chávez on Honduras are silly. Everyone was on the same side of this issue, from Chávez to Lula to Uribe to Calderón to Obama, with the exception of the coup authors, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and a handful of the think-tankers referenced above.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

López Obrador in 2012

Thanks in large part to his success in Iztapalapa, speculation about López Obrador's presidential potential has surged in recent days. Here he is talking about a "date with history" in 2012, and he was on the cover of the most recent Newsweek en Español as well. The lengthy article and interview inside offer all the evidence of the futility of a López Obrador run. AMLO gave one rather smooth answer that called to mind his best moments on the campaign three years ago (he turned a Chávez-or-Lula question into a brief celebration of FDR, which he did a lot in '06), and spent more time talking about poverty than I remember him doing in a long time. But he spent a good portion of the interview railing against "the mafia", saying that Calderón was barely qualified to be a magistrate (no offense to magistrates), and talking about violence. From an electability standpoint, it doesn't really matter that he was talking about the absence of violence in his movement; the salient issue is that violence appears at all in his rhetoric. After all, no one would think to ask Peña Nieto, Paredes, Vázquez, or Ebrard about the potential of violence among their supporters. Taken as a whole, Mexicans who read this interview (which unfortunately is unavailable online) could be forgiven for wondering if a future with AMLO is one of bitterness and upheaval. And it wasn't the interviewers; they weren't exclusively soft-ballers, but they seemed to sympathize with AMLO and I only counted a single question that was combative.

In other words, in 2006 AMLO's rhetoric was about one six-thousandth as heated as it is today, and Mexico had no idea that he was capable of camping out along Paseo de la Reforma for several weeks, and even then concern about his tropical messiah complex kept him from the presidency. It's hard to imagine that since then he has earned an army of new followers, and he almost certainly lost the lion's share of his moderate supporters. The only impact of an AMLO candidacy would seem to be as a spoiler.

Odd Historical Fact

According to a new article in Nexos, Adolfo López Mateos, Mexico's president from 1958 to 1964, was born in Guatemala. This would have made his candidacy unconstitutional, but I'm not sure what it means today, more than half a century after he was elected.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Gatti Gone

Arturo Gatti is dead at 37, presumably murdered. What a tragedy.

As to Gatti's boxing legacy, he was the most consistently exciting fighter I've ever seen. Unlike a lot of brawlers, Gatti had an aesthetically attractive style. He threw nice combinations, had a sweet left hook, and almost never clinched. Watch Ricky Hatton after a Gatti fight for an illustration of the latter's singularity. He probably could have won some of the fights that he lost had he adopted a more cautious style, but he correctly realized that more than any sport, boxing isn't just about winning, it's about entertaining. I write this with one eye on the rather boring opening rounds of the DeMarco-Adjaho fight, presently in the midst of an extended feeling-out process of the sort that never lasted more than ten seconds or so in a Gatti fight. I think that is the highest tribute a fight fan could pay him.

Let's have another look at the famous round 9 of Ward-Gatti I. The finale of Corrales-Castillo is the only comparable frame I've ever seen.


series of attacks on Federal Police outposts across Michoacán and Guerrero has left somewhere from five to eight people dead and several more injured. The possible reason: a high-ranking member of La Familia was arrested last night. 

Knocking Obama on Honduras

Jamie Kirchick has a video up on TNRtv knocking Obama for his reaction to the Honduras coup, calling for a more "moderate" stance based on the idea that in today's Latin America, authoritarians are more of a problem than coups. The theory that the best way to combat authoritarianism is to look the other way on coups is, to put it charitably, novel. The last century in Latin America has demonstrated a relationship between coups and authoritarians roughly analogous to boxing and black eyes. The fact that authoritarians are more of a problem today than coups is an unquestionable improvement over the dark past in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Peru, et cetera, when coups and authoritarian regimes infinitely worse than today's were commonplace. The replacement of the sadism of the Argentine Junta and Pinochet with Chávez's soft authoritarianism as the region's biggest threat is progress, which comes in large part from the absense of anti-democratic coups. But if what you seek is a regression to the Latin America of the '60s and '70s, by all means support the Zelaya coup, and support any coup that claims to push back against authoritarians.

I also find his choice of the word "moderate" rather odd; Obama officials didn't immediate call it a coup, they didn't let their rhetoric get ahead of the facts, they didn't respond in kind to the provocation of one of the coup leaders referring to Obama as a "negrito", and they have been squarely within the mainstream of world response. Via Boz, whose coverage of Honduras has been great, here's a recent comment from the president himself on Honduras:
America cannot and should not seek to impose any system of government on any other country, nor would we presume to choose which party or individual should run a country. And we haven't always done what we should have on that front. Even as we meet here today, America supports now the restoration of the democratically-elected President of Honduras, even though he has strongly opposed American policies. We do so not because we agree with him. We do so because we respect the universal principle that people should choose their own leaders, whether they are leaders we agree with or not.
That all seems to be pretty moderate to me. Of course, Kirchick doesn't define what a moderate reaction would be. Indeed, he even says that the US shouldn't support the interim government, which has me scratching my head as to what he would actually want done differently. Perhaps he wants the media to recognize that Zelaya was a bad leader? I'd say they have done so from the very beginning, but that on balance, most analysts say that a coup is the worst of the two evils.

You get the feeling his complaint is motivated by a general desire to be more hawkish than the American left, as well as to oppose Chávez at every turn. But how would American interests be advanced by equivocating in our treatment of a government recognized as illegitimate by everyone on the planet? Clearly we would sacrifice our prestige with such a policy, a la Venezuela 2002, which in certain circumstances could perhaps be justified, but what would we get in exchange? And what would Kirchick say if a couple of weeks before the vote for a third Álvaro Uribe term, the Colombian leader was hustled off to Miami at gunpoint by military leaders protesting authoritarianism?