Sunday, January 31, 2010

Another Reminder of the Journalistic Dangers

Another journalist was killed on Friday, this one in Guerrero.

While we're on the topic, a couple of bars were shot up here in town last night or early this morning, and there hasn't been a word of it in the local papers, their internet pages, or, from what I've seen, on the TV news shows. I heard one rumor that 20 people were killed and that the local hospital was teeming with wailing family-members this morning. Both stories seem unlikely to be true, especially the first, but this is an example of how if the professional media outlets aren't working on a story, the stories that gain credibility via word of mouth exponentially inflate the gore and the danger.

Update: The story was finally broken, not surprisingly by an out-of-town paper: Excélsior reports that 10 were killed and 15 wounded. The gore, as it turns out, wasn't exponentially inflated, though it was inflated, or so it would seem. To my knowledge, no local media has mentioned the event, though I wouldn't be shocked if a local news program has covered it. What a horrible time and place to be a twenty-something who likes a good nightclub.

Cordero's Out

Ernesto Cordero, who enjoyed a flurry of attention as a possible presidential candidate after being named Finance Secretary late last year, took himself off the preliminary presidential list a couple of days ago. He did the same thing in December, after which César Nava responded that nothing was settled. As far as I know, no one responded to Cordero's latter declaration with similar incredulity, which, along with the fact that this is the second denial in a little over a month, gives this a greater sense of finality.

Education Secretary Alonso Lujambio also put himself among the "not interested" group earlier this week, which, assuming he is serious, means two of the possible challengers to Santiago Creel are sitting this one out. One wonders if Cordero and Lujambio, both of whom would presumably like to president at some point, figure that winning in 2012 isn't in the cards for the PAN, and that it's better to avoid the inevitable lump-taking in what will most likely be a losing effort.


Salvador Cabañas woke up from his medically induced coma yesterday, telling the doctor "I'm OK" in Guaraní.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Finding Fault

Ciro Gómez agrees with Gancho that the anger at the government for the Cabañas shooting is misplaced:
Forgive me those who reflexively blame everything on the corruption of the government: federal, state, municipal, or all of them together. For the fight there two people responsible: Salvador Cabañas and JJ. And the criminal negligence of an owner who allowed armed people to walk around without shame or bother in his Bar Bar.


Without a pistol being involved, surely Cabañas or JJ would be recovering from a broken nose, the result of a bar fight, like those in Barcelona, London, Miami, or Mexico City.

The difference, the unfortunate part, one of them brought a pistol. Detecting it there, confiscating it there, wasn't the responsibility of the government, nor of the closing time.

Two emboldened parties. An irresponsible owner. A bar fight. With a pistol.

Ouch. Or, Another State Function Occupied by Organized Crime.

Milenio reports that in Zamora, Michoacán, the Family punishes common thieves by whipping them with barbed wire and parading them shirtless along crowded avenues with signs identifying them by their crime.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Controlling Info

In addition to its challenge of same-sex marriage, yesterday the PGR also asked the Supreme Court to uphold a Campeche law restricting public access to official information, which the federal government would like to apply to the Federal Institute for the Access to Public Information (IFAI).

As we (very subtly, toward the end of the post) alluded to yesterday, the lack of information in the public domain, and the consequent belief that the real truth is always the darker story hidden by the powerful, is one of the most unfortunate features of Mexican politics. It breeds mistrust and encourages (as well as cedes space to) conspiracy theorists. But this move from the PGR is all the more dangerous because it seems so unlikely to be overturned by future governments. Vicente Fox's creation of the IFAI, which probably stands as his most significant accomplishment, came during a unique backlash against the prerogatives of authoritarianism. I can't see a Peña Nieto, Creel, or AMLO administration wanting to hand back to the public whatever control over information it wins via the Supreme Court.

Presidential Possibilities

Manlio Fabio Beltrones says he is interested in running for president. Enrique Peña Nieto is also interested, but recently refused to say so, as he has in the past.

Against the Alliances

Macario Schettino on the alliances (from last week):
When the PRI was the singular party, the party of the state, alliances made a lot of sense, but then they were very common. Before 1986, nobody really believed it was possible to win a governorship from the Revolutionary regime. Later, everyone wanted to win it, but only for their side. Today, the argument is that it is to break local fiefdoms, which push personalities with relatively weak parties, but that together can put up a fight. But the same argument offers the conclusion: if the personality that is pushed has its own force, it will build a new fiefdom. If not, it will have in the best of cases a fruitless government.

The key line of separation in political projects in Mexico, I repeat, is between revolutionary nationalism, in whichever of the different versions that you like, and a diluted liberalism, which also has different presentations. One can find between the PRI both of these tendencies, but it's hard to find them both in the other parties. In consequence, the one who defines the competition is the PRI, depending on the candidate, and political group, from one of the two outlooks, pushed in each entity.

You can argue that in state elections this ideological fracture is a minor issue, and that the local dynamic is much more relevant. It is for the voters, without a doubt, but not for the parties, which have to construct a national platform. It's not worth much to win a race with an alliance that dilutes the political and ideological offering, without winning anything in return in terms of local structure or clear actions of government.

The alliances against the PRI could have been a great tool to destroy the authoritarian regime, but they weren't used then. Today they make no sense. If what they want is to beat the PRI, the correct path is to deepen the ideological fracture that separates that party, and indeed, the entire country.
That's about the best argument I've seen against the alliances. I think a lot depends on whether this is a one-off thing, or a regular feature of the Mexican political landscape. If it's a temporary tactic to defeat the PRI of Ulises Ruiz and Mario Marín, and then everything goes back to normal in six years, I don't really see it as such a cancer. (As to how the alliances would govern in the event of their victory, I've not read a whole lot about that, but I think the obligations of government would hasten the split in a lot of cases.) But if the two also-rans ganging up on the local leader is to be a standard feature of Mexican elections, I think Schettino's warning is worth heeding. If you believe Gustavo Madero, the latter is the case.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mexico's Most Despicable Politician*

This story refers to the recent comments about Haiti of Ariel Gómez León, a PRD federal deputy who moonlights as a radio talk show host:
"In the media, like on the television we see the faces of the people when the assistance is handed out, they are not faces of necessity, but of insatiable abusers," commented the legislator on his entertainment program "Happy" on the Digital Radio Group, of the magnate Simón Valanci.

Quoted by a newspaper with state circulation, Gómez León also that "because they're all black and they look so much like, we should have marked them with indelible ink so that the aid isn't doubled up; the ink would have to be white because what the Federal Electoral Institute uses wouldn't show up because they are so black."
Words fail me. Evidently, Gómez León was unhappy because one of the deputies' paychecks was reduced in order to help pay for the assistance to Haiti.

*For today, anyway.

Chava Update

Doctors continue to be worried about Salvador Cabañas's health, and say that it is vital that inflammation around his brain be reduced in the next 72 hours.

A busboy in the bar who witnessed the attack says that the shooter was angry with Cabañas for América's poor performance in a 2-0 loss to Morelia last weekend. According to the employee, Cabañas faced his attacker and said, "Shoot me. Shoot me if you have a lot of balls."

Mexico City authorities have arrested seven employees of the bar where Cabañas was shot for forty days under the arraigo.

Good News for Tri Fans

Mexico's got a series of heavyweights lined up for friendlies in the run-up to the World Cup: Italy, Holland, England, and eight other contests (with Portugal possibly among them). I'm not certain, but I don't remember a slate anything close to as ambitious heading into the 2006 Cup. Twelve games seems like a bunch, and has provoked some concern among Mexican soccer's chattering classes, but Uruguay and France shouldn't seem like much of a step up after facing off with three of Europe's best.

The US, thus far, has a game scheduled with the Netherlands as well, but that's the only upcoming friendly according to the US Soccer website.

Good Economic News. Maybe.

Banxico has revised its growth projection up from between 2.5 to 3.5 percent to 3.2 to 4.2 percent in 2010. That's still not enough to recover from the 7.5 percent decline in 2009, but the trend is positive and every little bit counts.

At the same time, notwithstanding the supposed independence and objectivity of the central bank, one can't help but wonder whether the arrival of to Banxico Agustín Carstens, who was consistently too optimistic in his projections while serving as finance secretary, is part of the reason for the adjustment.

Money-Laundering Stats

Over the weekend, Reforma published a note about a PGR spokesman's defense of Mexico's efforts to attack money laundering. Here's a highlight:
[I]n the almost 38 months of Calderón's term, federal authorities have seized $380 million, 280 million Mexican pesos, 470 airplanes, and 25,000 vehicles used by organized crime groups, but [the official] didn't provide figures from previous terms.

More than half of the American funds were recovered in a single operation: that of March 2007 in a house in Las Lomas de Chapultepec, the property of Chinese-Mexican Zhenli Ye Gon, where the Federal Police found $205 million.

According to the last report available from the PGR, between September 2008 and July 2009, only $2.9 million and 4 million pesos through judicial processes...
Without having any basis of comparison, it's hard to draw concrete conclusions, but that's certainly not as high a sum as would be possible from a really determined attack on money-laundering; since Calderón arrived in office, Mexican traffickers have earned (and presumably laundered) some $40 billion, and you can hardly sneeze in many Mexican towns without hitting a handful of businesses with a relationship with organized crime. Of course, the division between dirty and legitimate businesses is vague, and a determined attack on dirty money would also anger the law-abiding business class, which is probably why under Calderón, his money-laundering policy has been more a flurry of talk at the beginning of his term backed up by little sustained action.

The fact that the official can provide no figures from other administrations is inexcusable, and something that happens far too often in Mexico.

Single-Minded Coverage

Malcolm Beith had an interesting post two days ago lamenting how editors for English-language media insist on violence-heavy coverage of Mexico, which is certainly true in my experience as both a consumer and producer of print media. (More here.)

I also think it's worth noting that, whatever other flaws they may have, Mexican news outlets do not repeat the mistake in their coverage of the United States. They cover some beats more heavily than others (immigration especially), but for the most part, the big-time Mexican papers cover the US on its own terms. Take this story yesterday from El Universal about the State of the Union and Obama's spending freeze. Other than the language, it's not a whole lot different from what you might see in an American paper. There's rarely if ever a moment where the situation is reversed in American coverage of Mexico.


Contra my forecast, the federal government is escalating the same-sex marriage dispute: the PGR is planning to challenge the recent Mexico City law before the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Paredes Is Turning into Zuckermann's Heavy Bag

Leo Zuckermann drills Beatriz Paredes (this is has been a repetitive story in recent weeks. Zuckermann is to Paredes what Austin Collie is to the middle of the Jets secondary):

Once more I repeat: politicians must be judged on what they do and not what they say. One thing is a speech and another very different is action. Talking is cheap, especially when one bets on the population's short memory. Here we have, for example, Beatriz Paredes's speech at the fifteen-hundredth seminar on political reform in Mexico.

The national president of the PRI said that "her party won't permit the approval of the independent candidacies, because it believes that behind them there are powerful special interests and ultra-right groups". She went on: "That's why the debate over independent candidacies has to be conducted not based on the democratic ideal of a civil society amply participatory and with high citizen density, but rather from the unusual fact of hyperactivity from ultra-right groups that perhaps think that the confusion that dominates on some issues could carry them to political power. In the PRI we say: They shall not pass".

What is Paredes talking about? What are the hyperactive ultra-right groups? Where are they? What do they want? While the priísta provides no more information, her discourse lingers in the typical rhetorical scare tactics: watch out because here comes the bogeyman.

The PRI president's talking with such worry about special interest is striking, when it's her party that rounds up and protects many of them...I'm sorry, but if there is one party that has protected special interests in Mexico, it's the PRI.
Yeah, that's pretty bizarre. I wondered yesterday if the "stink of authoritarianism" was an unreflective aside upon which reporters were unfairly harping, but it would seem the opposite is the case. Has she always been this off the wall, or only since the election?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Supporting the Alliances

Marcelo Ebrard is all for them, which places him at odds with AMLO. Still no word, as far as I know, from Calderón on the matter.

Blame for Cabañas

A lot is being made of the fact that the bar in which Salvador Cabañas was shot was still open at five in the morning, when bars in Mexico City are supposed to be closed at 3 a.m. Carlos Marín wrote a column titled "Endemic Corruption" slamming Eduardo Santillán, the delegation chief in the area of Mexico City where the event occurred, for allowing an after-hours bar to operate under his watch. On last night's evening news, Joaquín López-Dóriga spent a good 90 seconds attacking the same man for the same reason, with a giant close-up face shot of the perredista serving as the backdrop. Part of the reason for this, I'd say, is an outsized sensitivity to club owners not following the rules stemming from the New's Divine tragedy. But much of it is just political point-scoring and the pseudo-populist tendency to always search for a way to blame the government that abounds in the Mexican media.

Of course, bars should close at the hour the law dictates, and Santillán (and all of the delegation bosses in Mexico City) should be held accountable for not enforcing the city's laws effectively, but it's silly to make this the focus of outrage in this case. The reason that Cabañas has a bullet in his brain right now is that a man shot him, not that one bar (among scores, if not hundreds) was open after hours. Presumably, the shooter was really determined to attack Cabañas, and would have been willing to do so at 2:45 a.m. had it been the only way to so. We have no reason to think that closing the bars in Mexico City at 3 a.m. would have prevented this. And if the late-night hours for bars were such an affront, where were the angry columns six months ago, three years ago, ten years ago, throughout which time the after-hours habits of some Mexico City establishments has been a secret to nobody?

A couple of other interesting nuggets about the case: One of the alleged assailants (not the shooter) was arrested in Mexico City and then released about two weeks ago. And the alleged shooter has a child with the reality TV personality, lad mag cover girl, and political toe-dipper La Chiva.

Reform Dead?

The PRI and the PRD say that Calderón's plan is DOA. (Or, to be precise D several weeks after A.) In fact, Beatriz Paredes said his proposal had the "stink of authoritarianism". She went on to say:
We are worried about the [PAN's] tendency to operate public policy through the parties instead of advancing professionalization, careers in civil service, and a neutral public administration.
Good to know that Paredes' incoherence isn't limited to abortion. That quote might be unfair (if she went on at great depth and the reporter ignored it), but I'd be interested to know what the authoritarian part of the proposal is.

Unpopular Alliances

According to polling from Berumen, Mexicans were very unaware of the nascent PAN-PRD 0alliances in Hidalgo, Oaxaca, et cetera: only 21 percent said they'd heard about them. Upon having the news explained, more than half (54 percent) of the respondents disapproved, compared to barely a quarter (27 percent) who was in favor. This seems to stem from a generalized disapproval of contra-ideological political alliances: 53 percent didn't approve of alliances in the abstract.

Decision Forthcoming

Excélsior reports that the Supreme Court is on the verge of throwing out the injunctions filed by business against the IETU, Mexico's sort-of new corporate alternative minimum tax. According to another Excélsior report earlier this month, some $5.5 billion of would-be government revenue hangs in the balance.

Cabañas Update

Salvador Cabañas remains hospitalized with a bullet in his head, and is now in a medically induced coma. Authorities say that his attacker is named José J. Balderas Garza, and may have connections to organized crime. The attack was not the result of a robbery or a nearby dispute, but was in fact directed specifically toward the América striker. As is made clear on the security cameras (which were displayed on last night's news shows), the assailant followed him into the bathroom and shot him in the head, calmly walked across the crowded bar, and drove off in a car waiting outside. Authorities are investigating the possibility that he was targeted because of a dispute over a woman.

Election Turned Reality Show

Via Richard, the AP had an ironic story this weekend about the fact that Mexico's leading presidential candidates are men whose significant other is a soap actress. It's not the most astute of insights in the history of time, but for what it's worth, Gancho was saying the same thing in November of 2008. And I repeat my belief that the best way to cover this campaign would be to turn it into a reality show, especially if Santiago Creel wins the PAN nomination.

Monday, January 25, 2010


When considering the collective wisdom of the American public, pundits typically seem to incline toward one of two extremes: either the public is wise and just and shan't be bucked (which is ridiculous), or it's uninformed and stupid and shan't be trusted (which is overwrought). Matt Yglesias did a good job explaining why the latter is wrong, both as a matter of politics and logic:
I think the right way to interpret the news that most Americans think the stimulus money has been wasted rather than helping them is pretty obvious. Most people don’t know a lot of macroeconomic theory, most people don’t pay a lot of attention to politics, and most people recognize that the unemployment rate is ridiculously high. Ergo, they’ve decided the money was wasted.

Joe Klein has a good piece laying out the truth but I also think it’s a textbook example of how not to talk about gaps in the public’s knowledge of policy disputes. Calling the country “too dumb to thrive” or wondering if we’ve become “a nation of dodos” is way too harsh. It also opens the door for basic observations about public ignorance to be caricatured as elites sneering at the common man.

The fact of the matter, however, is that most people don’t know much about most things. I know a lot about US politics and policy debates and the NBA. I know less about the NFL, indie rock, various TV shows, etc. I know very little about contemporary literary fiction or soccer or plumbing or automobile repair or legitimate theater or chemistry or firearms or fashion or any number of other topics that lots of people seem extremely well-informed about. The simple fact of the matter is that there’s only so much time in the day and everyone can only know about so many things. I write about politics and policy debates for a living so I’d really better know a lot about it. Plenty of people who don’t deal with these issues professionally find them interesting, which is great. But plenty of other people don’t find them interesting and consequently they don’t know much about it. That’s not the same as them being “dodos.”

Slim's Doings

Daniel Hernandez has a piece on Carlos Slim's recent maneuvers, both in business and philanthropy. I'm not sure if it's that I've only been reading a lot about Slim since I moved to Mexico and a lot of my preconceived notions have been proven wrong by the magnate's multi-faceted but static personality, or if Slim really has changed the way he operates recently, but it sure seems like his public image has added a lot of gold stars to balance out his monopolistic demerits over the past few years.

The NFL's Grade Inflation

With Manning otherwise occupied, David Garrard was named to the AFC Pro Bowl squad. Garrard had 15 touchdowns and an 83 rating on a team that won seven games. What am I missing?

Mexicans and Legislative Reelection

If you accept the newest polling numbers from Mitofsky, that "and" in the title could be replaced by "hate". Evidently, 80 percent of Mexicans reject the idea of legislative reelection. That displeasure transcends divisions of geography, education, and party identification. I think legislative and executive reelection is a good idea, but it's hard to justify the passage of a simple reform that is rejected by eight out of ten voters. Reelection advocates should redirect their efforts toward a public-education campaign, then try again in a few years.

Now seems a good time to plug Yann Kerevel's lengthy meditation on Mexican institutional reform from December.

Get Well Chava

Salvador Cabañas, the star Paraguayan forward and América mainstay, was shot in the head in a bar in Mexico City last night. He was then taken to the hospital, where he remains, and further information is basically unavailable. From the reports, it doesn't sound like he was the target of a premeditated attempt on his life, but rather had the misfortune to witness an argument at the bar that escalated into a gunfight. It's not clear whether or not he was involved in the argument or not. Gancho hopes for his speedy recovery.

Update: An official with América says that the incident stemmed from a robbery at the bar, not an argument. He also said that Cabañas is conscious.

On the Alliances

A piece here. Apologies for repeating derivatives of the word "recent" in the same sentence, it was a long Friday.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Today in Propaganda

Here's what the federal government is saying about its capture of El Teo. Oddly, I don't think there was a similar video for the death of Arturo Beltrán Leyva, despite the fact that his death was a bigger coup.

How They See Us

I'm watching Lorenzo Meyer talk to Carmen Aristegui about Barack Obama's first year, and he's got one of the of the sharpest, most informed takes on the US I've ever seen from a Mexican analyst. This line about the Republicans from the essentially moderate Meyer stands out:
It's a crazy right. They say things that are from another planet.

News No One Was Waiting For

Santiago Creel declared himself an aspirant for the PAN nomination in 2012 on Carmen Aristegui's show last night. I suppose Creel would be a suitable candidate if the goal is to lose respectably, but if the PAN wants to actually win, Creel's not the man to beat Peña Nieto and Ebrard.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fading Issue?

Felipe Calderón had an apparently quite cordial meeting with legislators from the PAN, PRI, and the PRD about same-sex marriage yesterday. Everyone came out saying it neither confrontational nor heated, and you get the feeling that everyone came away agreeing to disagree. I wonder if this is Calderón's way of trying to put the issue to bed so as, per Mario Campos' curiosity about the PAN's priorities, to concentrate on political reform. Or maybe I just want my predictions proved right.

Bad Proposal

Via the Mexico Institute, this news comes from the AP:

A new proposal by Mexico's ruling party could result in musicians being sent to prison for performing songs that glorify drug trafficking.

The proposed legislation would mean sentences of up to three years for people performing or producing songs or films that glamorise criminals.

"Society sees drug ballads as nice, pleasant, inconsequential and harmless – but they are the opposite," Oscar Martin Arce, a National Action party MP, told the Associated Press.

The ballads – known as narcocorridos – often describe drug trafficking and violence and are popular among some norteño bands.

I don't imagine this is going anywhere, but what a horrible, short-sighted, Orwellian scheme. Just as arresting NWA would have done nothing to halt the crack boom, this is a mindless idea that is a distraction from the very pressing problem of organized crime in Mexico. Of course, free speech must be restricted in extreme cases, but this isn't one of them. Furthermore, what would the benefit be here? Would Chapo et al be any less powerful if this law were somehow wildly "successful" and no one wrote songs about narcos anymore? Organized crime derives its power from bribes and bullets, not from music.

More here and here on the silly habit of jailing musicians connected to drug traffic.

Alliance Update

On Monday, Jesús Ortega defended the plans for PRD-PAN alliances in states run by "authoritarian governments" on Monday, but over the last couple of days more heavyweight voices have been voicing alarm. First, PRI Senate boss (and key PAN collaborator on legislative issues) Manlio Fabio Beltrones called such alliances a "deformity". Then, Interior Secretary Fernando Gómez Mont referred them "electoral frauds". The tide, then, would seem to be turning against the alliances, which means the heirs of Ulises Ruiz and Mario Marín are more likely to take office.

Castañeda on the Drug Wars

Vicente Fox's foreign minister has a long piece summarizing the points from La Guerra Fallida here. It strikes me as very flawed, for reasons I will lay out in a future post.

Update: This isn't Castañeda's fault (I imagine), but can we retire the whole, "What's Spanish for..." as the default headline for articles about Latin America? Tired. Very tired.

Meeting the Big Shots

Marcelo Ebrard was in Washington yesterday, where he met with Barack Obama and asked him to legalize the undocumented Mexican immigrants living in the US. With Peña Nieto meeting the Pope recently, is this going to start a sort-of arms race of famous meetings for the 2012 hopefuls? Are Manlio Fabio Beltrones and AMLO placing frantic calls to Lula's secretary?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Shady Stats

Genaro García Luna made "news" today when he declared before the Chamber of Deputies that 1.7 million Mexicans are regular users of cocaine, and 3 million are consume marijuana on a regular basis.

But the fourth word of this post is in quotes because it is sharply contradicted by the most comprehensive and recent government study on addiction to which we have access. According to the National Survey on Addiction (page 106), released in September 2008, only about 300,000 Mexicans have used cocaine in the last month, much less on a regular basis. Only about 750,000 reported having smoked marijuana in the last month, which is again irreconcilable with García Luna's figures. That's not to say that Mexico's growing drug use isn't an issue to which lawmakers should pay attention, but it would seem that the figures that García Luna is tossing around are unreliable. Or the survey is a sham.

García Luna did have another interesting factotum: he said that the annual value of Mexico's market for drug consumption is $811 million. But given the above, it's hard to know how much stock to put in that info.

Update: García Luna's declarations are all over the front pages of the dailies. No mention, so far as I can tell, about the discrepancy. It occurs to me that the explanation may well be the adverb "regularly", as in "regularly use". I never saw it in quotes, though it appeared several times in the article. Perhaps García Luna did not mean "regularly", but rather "sporadically". If that's the case, the fault lies with the newspapers.

A Small Measure of Revenge

This isn't the most mature thing I've ever read, but despite that, I'm all for it.

Crespo on Legalization

José Antonio Crespo made a good case for legalization earlier this week:
Drug trafficking is different from other crimes because, among other reasons, those who work in it obtain stratospheric profits. which gives them the resources to buy sophisticated and powerful arms, diverse vehicles (submarines and planes included), the capacity to corrupt officials at every level of the hierarchy, and strong incentives to continue recruiting operators and gunmen. Through significantly minar the cartels' funds, the task of confronting them becomes a lot more effective, and the social costs, less (as is the case with criminal bands engaged in other common crimes). The idea behind the eventual legalization of drugs is precisely to eliminate a extremely high profitability derived from the black market, which is a product in turn of the prohibition beginning in 1908. But while this is going on, legalization should be viewed as the way to subtract a portion of the capos' funds. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that this be achieved by trying to seal off the northern border to stop the cash flow that comes from the United States to Mexico. A greater effort to impede money laundering and confiscate the fortunes of the capos could strike greater blows and impose lesser social costs.
Crespo's explanation of how legalization would be an improvement is perfectly reasoned; it wouldn't make crime go away, and he might have added that it could cause a near-term spike in certain crimes. Regardless, a generation after legalization, it's unlikely that the remaining criminals would have been able to replace all the lost drug-trafficking income. With less cash, they'd be less of a threat.

Alemán on the Narco-Musicians

Ricardo Alemán wonders why Mexican authorities target grupero musicians who play for drug traffickers:
Is it a crime to sing, play, or tell jokes to criminals? No, the crime, in that case, would be to not report where a criminal lives...


Why doesn't the PGR arrest and investigate the priest who baptized the son of the drug trafficker where the Cadetes de Linares played? Why doesn't it investigate the school where the children of drug traffickers study? Why not the owner of the bank that manages million-dollar accounts in poverty-stricken towns in Chihuahua or Sinaloa? Why not the owner of a luxury truck agency, which are purchased by the hundreds in regions that have a strong influence of drug trafficking. Perhaps we should invert the question, "Who is free of drug trafficking?"
The point is well-taken, but unless I'm mistaken, it's not a crime to not report where a suspected criminal lives, either. Arresting Ramón Ayala, then, is little more than harassment, and poorly aimed harassment at that. Alemán equates Ayala and other musicians to bankers who open accounts for narcos, but in fact the latter, whose relationship to the criminal is vital to the criminal's operation rather than periodically helpful for entertainment purposes, is far worse.

PRI Squabbles?*

Two days ago, Manlio Fabio Beltrones offered the PRI's opening position in the Senate on fiscal reform, which would include:
[A] generalized tax on consumption and income at lower rates, but absolutely everyone pays, which would widen the taxable base, but also would allow for the creation of an exempted basket of basic staples like food and medicine.
In any event, a day later, the PRI faction in the Chamber of Deputies distanced itself from Beltrones' proposal to a certain degree.

I look forward to reading some more expert opinions on this, but increasing revenue by lowering taxes is something that provokes no small amount of skepticism. "Everyone must pay" sounds good, and tax evasion in Mexico is said to be rampant so it's a worthy goal, but if it was so easy, it would have happened already.

*That's a headline that hasn't fit very often over the past three years.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More Problems in the Jailhouse

For at least the third time in the last year, a major riot in a Mexican jail has left more than a dozen inmates dead. The latest outbreak of jailhouse violence was in Durango, while last year's worst episodes were in similarly crime-addled northern cities Juárez and Gómez Palacio.

Money Fails to Keep Up with Mouth

Highlighting an episode from earlier this month, Mauricio Merino says that Calderón's fatal flaw has been the incapacity or unwillingness to match his actions to his rhetoric:
In the country of flagrant contradictions, both things exist: the Interior Department recognized that essentially the government seeks to brake the IFAI [Mexico's information-access agency], while the president advocates for transparency and calls for state governments "to assume without limitation the standards of transparency and accountability that in this case the OECD is promoting". And of course, what flooded the media during those days was the virtuous declaration of the president, while the strategies designed to impede the transparency organ are consolidated were an issue for this newspaper [El Universal] and few more.

Nevertheless, the contradiction serves to demonstrate one of the preferred forms of this term: the use of forceful and thunderous speeches, which intend to substitute with words the inaction of the government in the foremost issues of public administration.
This criticism seems basically fair. Calderón, at different spots during his term, has shown an admirable ability to diagnose what Mexico's foremost problems are. His capacity and willingness to correct said problems have been far less impressive. As Leo Zuckermann mentioned a few months ago (and as he tangentially alluded to in December), the result is confusion.

Bummer of an Anniversary

Chapo Guzmán escaped from prison nine years ago yesterday, arguably laying the groundwork for much of the violence Mexico is experiencing today.

Playboy's Self-Parody

This has to be the weirdest concept for a sexy photo shoot ever dreamed up:
A pair of twenty-something sisters, great-granddaughters of revolutionary leaders, will join the festivities of the bicentennial of Independence and the centennial of the Mexican Revolution with a totally nude pictorial in the adult magazine Playboy Mexico, a source for the publication informed.

Fernanda and Isabel Calles Carranza "will show off their beauty in a beautiful kick off the festivities in 2010", Playboy Mexico said in a press release.
Because nothing says "hot" like famous old politicians who've been dead for the better part of a century! I wonder if either one will be donning a replica of Carranza's beard.

Evidently, descendents of Carranza and Calles married, which makes the sisters great-granddaughters of both men simultaneously.

Reaction to the PRD-PAN Alliance

It's not favorable. An Imagen online/radio poll (whose respondents would tend to lean conservative) shows that almost 90 percent respond in the negative to the following question:
Do you consider the PAN-PRD alliance for local elections this year congruent?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Praising the Good Guys

This from The Plaza:
An aggressive Mexican army general and Tijuana’s top cop have been named “Men of the Year” by the Baja California news weekly Zeta.

The hard-hitting Spanish-language publication typically skewers public safety officials for failing to rein in drug cartels, but editors said Gen. Alfonso Duarte Mujica and Tijuana Secretary of Public Security Julian Leyzaola last year put up a strong fight.

Mujica, 56, spearheads the Mexican government’s offensive in Baja California from the Morelos army base overlooking Tijuana. Leyzaola, 49, heads Tijuana's 2,100-member police department.

“The offensive of these two men against organized crime generated confidence in the community and gained credibility for the institutions in one of the most difficult years in terms of security,” said the article in the magazine’s most recent issue.
I'd like to see more pieces like the above, at least in Mexico. I hate to sound like Paul Wolfowitz circa 2004 and obviously the primary function of the press is not to celebrate government, but the ratio of negative to positive information about Mexican officials floating around is stratospheric. That, combined with the inconsistency of media coverage, creates this environment where virtually everyone in the government is presumed to be guilty of something, which is needless to say a bit destructive. At the risk of inviting more hagiographies, there is a real benefit to stuff like the Zeta piece: readers are reminded that not everyone in public office is dirty, officials are reminded that not all good works go unnoticed, a more complete picture of the world is illustrated, et cetera.

In the US, on the other hand, there is already more than enough such journalism. Click here for a recent example.

Calderón's Political Choice

Mario Campos is struck by the incongruence in Calderón's priorities on political reform and his party's on social issues:
The most interesting things is that while President Calderón seems to be betting on the image of his government --coming from the PAN-- as one that is fighting to broaden democracy through citizen candidacies, legislative reelection, popular initiatives, and other similar measures, proposals that identify it as a party of opening and at the vanguard of the democratic agenda, his party has carved itself out as thes standard-bearer of the most conservative issues, such as its opposition to abortion choice and gay marriage.

Which of these two faces will be the one that voters identify as they head to the voting booths? Those who have worked on compaign know that this is not a minor question because during an electoral race it becomes complicated to offer one, not to mention two or more, ideas to the voters, a task that becomes almost impossible when the ideas are so different.

What do they think in Los Pinos of this situation, will they be comfortable with the campaign that has placed them on the side of the Church? Will they feel that this is the issue by which they want to be identified as a political force? Or on the contrary, will it have a different vision, with a desire to impulse and move forward on a reform agenda that could do something to make a difference in the rules of Mexicans politics.

We will see in the next few weeks which of these visions prevails and marks the identify of the PAN.
Indeed we will. I believe Calderón's political reform will carry the day, but perhaps that's wishful thinking.

More Support for the Liquidation

Milenio reports that a greater number of Mexicans favor the disappearance of the state electricity company LyFC today than in October. In a poll of ex-customers of LyFC, 56 percent express support for the move, up from 47 percent three months ago. Those who disapprove of the liquidation dropped from 39 percent to 32 percent during the same span.

Slim's Doings

The Big Money says that Carlos Slim is the reason that the NY Times will be placing stories behind a paywall.

Also, Reuters has this:

América Móvil, the telecommunications company controlled by the billionaire Carlos Slim Helú, on Wednesday started a $21 billion offer for the Mexican telephone companies Telmex and Telmex Internacional.

Mr. Slim already controls all three companies. Now, he wants to integrate them to create a provider with fixed-line telephone, mobile and Internet services across Latin America to better compete against growing rivals.

(H/T) Oddly enough, this has gotten no press here. Instead, the first story on the Excélsior website is the bankruptcy of Japan Airlines. Color me confused.

Trade with Brazil

Sergio Sarmiento makes the case for a Brazil-Mexico free trade agreement:
Why a trade agreement between these two rivals? To start, the possibility of completing the Doha round of the WTO is increasingly distant. It's necessary, then, to look for regional or bilateral agreements. Brazil has discovered that [economic] opening increases exports and that Mercosur has too many limitations to grow. Mexico, meanwhile, needs to diversify its markets, particularly after the crisis demonstrated the fragility of depending only the US, and Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America.


Brazil is an enormous country with 192 million inhabitants and a GDP of $1.6 billion (IMF, 2008), bigger even than that of Canada. It has had an average growth of 5 percent in recent years. Although it continues with a very closed economy (its foreign trade accouts for 24 percent of the GDP compared to 56 in Mexico), in recent years it has begun to open up. Brazil now imports $170 billion a year, but Mexico only has 2 percent of that market.


Despite what could be believed, Mexico is very competitive in industrial goods. Brazil, which doesn't suffer from the fragmentation of its land nor the judicial uncertainty of Mexico's rural areas, has its greatest advantage in its agricultural sector. An opening with Brazil would permit the price of food in Mexico to be lowered and thus benefit the poorest Mexicans.

Lula's enthusiasm is an unexpected opportunity that we must take advantage of, above all if Mexicans really want to diversify our foreign trade. We cannot just keep offering pronouncements on the issue. The best tactic to achieve it at this time is a free trade agreement with Brazil.
I'd be interested to see a deeper economic analysis of this, but politically speaking, the broader macroeconomic benefits of Mexico diversifying its export markets make for a stronger argument than the benefits for the poorer Mexicans. The latter sounds strikingly like the promises from Nafta, which, to put it mildly, brought unfavorable results for the rural poor.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Friendlier Enemies

The political circumstances in Mexico --i.e. PRI electoral domination-- have changed sufficiently to make PRD-PAN alliances a very likely possibility in some races for governor, despite the complaints of party bigwigs on each side. Jesús Zambrano, a close confidant of party president Jesús Ortega, yesterday announced just such an alliance in Hidalgo, where the PRI is boss. Tourism Secretary Rodolfo Elizondo was also trumpeting the value of such agreements in an interview yesterday. The three possible candidates there are all from the PRD's neck of the ideological woods, so presumably in the next state the non-PRI will come together behind a PAN candidate.

Soldiers to Tijuana

Anticipating a wave of violence in Tijuana with the city's foremost criminal boss now under arrest, the government has deployed 1,000 army troops to the border city.

That sounds like a logical piece of foresight, but one can't help but wonder: if several thousand army troops were incapable of limiting the violence in Juárez, what can we expect one thousand to do if Tijuana's underworld is determined to fight it out for the scraps of Teo's organization? That lack of clarity is another reason why the government should offer some more details and conclusions of the operation in Juárez: why it went wrong, whether or not this was because of the army's complicity or incompetence, whether we can expect it to be any better in Juárez with the Federal Police, and whether the army flooding another city or region can be expected to yield better results in terms of security (the seemingly inevitable spike in abuses that the presence of the army implies being, for now, a separate question).


El Universal ran a piece last week titled "Calderón's popularity grows". It was based on the Mitofsky polls, in which Calderón's average approval rating for 2009 (62.3 percent) bested his average from 2008 (61.3 percent) and 2007 (58.7 percent). That's all true enough, but Calderón's numbers over the past several months have been dropping precipitously, with the December figure (55 percent) qualifying as the lowest of his presidency. More here.

Picking on Beatriz

The narrative of Beatriz Paredes as spineless fence-sitter seems to be growing. The self-declared feminist attracted ridicule for doing nothing while a series of PRI-led states criminalized abortion, and she has likewise remained silent on her position on gay marriage. In reference to this last issue, César Nava (who I believe is against the practice) called her silence suspicious, and encouraged her to stake out a position.


Last week I wrote a piece about the tame impact of decriminalization, five months after the event. Unfortunately, the Arizona Republic did the same a few days before me.

One of the Worst of the Crisis's Effects

According to a study from the National Institute of Adult Education, 700,000 Mexican youths have dropped out of school as a result of the crisis. The dropouts are concentrated in southern states like Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chiapas, and Michoacán.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Another Dead Journalist

The body of José Luis Romero, a reporter in Ahome, Sinaloa, was found yesterday. Romero was kidnapped on December 30th along with a former soldier, whose whereabouts are still unknown. He is the second journalist to be killed in 2010 (though I guess there's no way of knowing in exactly which year he was killed).

More here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lujambio's Future

Bajo Reserva considers some recent pushing and pulling between the Secretariat of Public Education and the SNTE, Mexico's teachers union:
Who benefits from the changes at the Secretariat of Education? Eight months after assuming his post, the secretary, Alonso Lujambio Irazábal, argues that now is the moment to enrich the deliberation of his team with regard to the reforms that are already on the way and decided to fire two high-ranking officials. It's clear that any cabinet secretary wants to work with people he trusts, nobody could question that. Nevertheless, it turns out that the two dismissed officials have something in common: they are not well regarded by the National Educational Worker Syndicate...It could be that Secretary Alonso Lujambio, who has requested that the PAN include his name as an active member of the party, doesn't manage to win the PAN's presidential candidacy in 2012, but if things continue as they have he will certainly land the candidacy of PANAL [the political party controlled by Gordillo].
I can't quite figure out why anyone who's got star potential in one of the major parties would want the PANAL nomination just because he came up short in a nomination that's a long shot anyway. Maybe I overestimate his potential to be a big player in the PAN for sexenios to come, but it seems like he'd be throwing that away for the outside chance of picking up five percent of the presidential vote.

Tempting Fate

In all my years as a Manning fan, I don't think I've ever felt less worried about a playoff game than today's against the Ravens. The variables the Ravens had going their way last were legion: Brady was not only horrible, but he also couldn't throw more than 15 yards without the pigskin fluttering like a wiffle ball; Rice had the huge run to start the game (outside of that scamper, he and the Ravens averaged around 3.5 yards a carry); the Ravens forced a series of early turnovers in Pats territory; and the Pats, who were missing their best offensive player, rolled over and died in the first quarter, which took the game out of Flacco's hands. The Colts, in contrast, will be able to hold the Ravens below 50 carries, will be able to go downfield on them, and will make Flacco pass more than ten times, which translates into a pick or four. I like the Colts by ten or so, maybe more.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The PAN's Transformation

Sergio Aguayo has a really interesting comment about the descent of the PAN from the noble conscience of the nation while in the opposition to the PRI-lite of the past decade. After examining the role of Vicente Fox in establishing the governing style of the modern PAN, he continues:
With all the importance that individual biographies have, they are insufficient for understanding the transformation of the PAN. To go a little deeper, the first great game-changer was the demonstration in November of 1988, in which they conceded to Carlos Salinas de Gortari the possibility of legitimizing himself with results. Later would come the methods of Diego Fernández de Cevallos or the alliance of Fox and Felipe Calderón with Elba Esther Gordillo, a teacher who, to be sure, also presented herself as a social democrat in the decade of the 1990s.

These and many other personal stories constitute the collective evolution. There is empirical information that demonstrates it. Another finding from the latest book of Alejandro Moreno, The electoral decision (Porrúa, 2009), is that the panista victories at the ballot box caused notable increases in the activists and sympathizers of the PAN. Those who identify themselves as "panistas," he writes "are newly minted."

The figures confirm that, beginning with the 1990s, the PAN confronted the most intense siege of its history. The organization and its leaders lived the attack of the buffalos and the sycophants trained at massaging egos, offering to do "whatever you need sir/madam" and solving all the problems because a good servant of the "system" is PhD jack-of-all-trades. Moreno found in his surveys that a high percentage of those who became disillusioned with the PRI, when it lost strength, chose the PAN as their principal destination. It's paradoxical that the panistas, who so criticized the PRD for being an offshoot of the PRI, ended up being the chosen nest of the majority of priísta exiles.

One of the great dramas of the human condition is handling power or the anxieties of achieving it. To take it to a more relevant realm, a Mexicanized version of the Faustian myth would be the dilemma that the longtime and newly arrived panistas face: will they continue being a pirate copy of the worst of the PRI's habits and customs or will they in their heroic and prosaic past the inspiration to redefine their identity.
I think one thing that is often overlooked in such critiques is how inevitable disappointment is once an opposition party takes over. (For another modern example see Democrats, the.) In this case, the PAN could have made a clearer break with the PRI's governing style, but the PAN also had to operate in the world that the PRI created; they couldn't start from scratch. That doesn't invalidate what Aguayo says at all; updating the PAN's image is going to be a fundamental (and Herculean!) task of whoever winds up with the 2012 nomination, and whichever party wins, breaking Mexico's reliance on PRI-era "habits and customs" remains an important and incomplete process. But the PAN's evolution from noble outsider to corrupt player is an eternal part of politics, and the dilemma (to use Aguayo's word) facing the PAN today was to a certain degree unavoidable.

Crespo on Norberto

José Antonio Crespo doesn't think much of the Church's behavior over the past several weeks:
The blows to the secular state also come from the verbal rebellions of the Catholic prelates, like Norberto Rivera, when he states: "You have to obey the law of God before the law of the men". (1.10.10) And who defines the supreme law of God? Just the Catholics? Because for Jews, Protestants, Buddhists, Muslims, or Hindus, many laws of God are different from those postulated by the Vatican. Should we also stick to the law prohibiting the consumption of pigs, as Judaism orders, and practice mandatory circumcision? Or avoid all alcohol and use the burka, according to the demands of Muslim fundamentalists, or not eat beef as the Hindus do, or not kill even an insect, one of the maxims of the Jains? Well everyone should follow their own convictions, but in a secular state the laws can't be formed from such beliefs. This is a fundamental of modernity, to which it would seem many are opposed.

Criticisms of Calderón's Crime Policy

This from a recent press conference of Manlio Fabio Beltrones:
The crime we wave that we are living in Mexico at the beginning of 2010 should encourage the government to think very hard about how to strengthen its strategy of searching for greater peace and tranquility for Mexico, as all Mexicans demand and, in large part, its action of open and decided combat of organized crime and drug trafficking has all the support of Congress, as well as the majority of or even all Mexicans.

But a strategy that has no movement, the only thing that it generates is that results that we have until today continue: violence and murder in the first month, which are very striking. We would invite the government to meet with urgency, with the end result of revising its strategy.

I think that this meeting could also serve to examine some truly scary issues, such as permitting a drug trafficker to remodel a jail. It seems that in such a moment the government stops existing.

Who's Running Mexico's Foreign Policy?

Bajo Reserva wonders about the hierarchy in practice versus the intended institutional hierarchy in Mexico's Secretariat of Foreign Relations:
The only thing missing was for Arturo Sarukhán to physically move Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa to one side with the palm of his hand. Although essentially did just that: he addressed the consuls as though he were the head of the Secretariat of Foreign Relations. They tells that in his urgency to sell Mexico as a safe and stable nation, he scolded representatives from diverse cities in the US. Some labeled it humiliating, others said they simply felt attacked by the Mexican ambassador in Washington. They assure that this isn't the first time. Sarukhán tends to act as though Espinosa didn't exist.
Sarukhán was last seen around here making declarations that, on second thought, were probably more appropriate coming from the foreign secretary. When Sarukhán was named the Ambassador to Washington, it was something of a surprise, because he had had a long foreign-policy résumé and had played a huge role in the Calderón campaign; everyone had assumed that the post would be his logical reward. But although he took a "lesser" role, he remains the foreign policy heavyweight in Calderón's cabinet, which you could argue is akin to literally centering the administration's foreign policy in Washington. That's probably putting too fine a point on it (after all, Sarukhán doesn't pop up a lot on questions that have nothing to do with US-Mexico relations), but the image presented by the status quo is not ideal, to say the least.

Lots of Arrests

The government says that it has arrested 67,000 people have been arrested since Calderón came into office. Contrary to recent assertions from Edgardo Buscaglia that less than 1,000 of those arrested have been from Chapo Guzmán's Sinaloa gang, the government places the number at more than 16,000.

That discrepancy aside, the article doesn't tell us how many of the above were eventually convicted or let back out on the street without charges. Most estimates show that the latter result is far more common, which makes such a big number as 67,000 far less significant. Also, it should be noted that 64,000 of those arrested were narcomenudistas, or low-level dealers, rather than big players.

Gallows Humor

Here's a partial translation of an email making the rounds in Torreón these days:
Tourist Package "Visit the best sites"

12:00 p.m.-Target practice in Colonias Durangueña, San Antonio, Fidel Velazquez, Tierra y Libertad, or any other part of the city. You can do this wherever you want, no problem.

2:00 p.m.-Participation in a kidnapping scene on Raúl López Sánchez, in front of Liverpool Galerías [a local mall], 100 percent real.

3:00 p.m.-Recreational activity: "Look for the dead body in a blanket", the winner will receive a free meal at the restaurant Cielito Lindo (gunfight included).

4:00 p.m.-Instructional activity: "Rip out the cash machine", location to be determined, includes work tools, pick-up with driver wearing a ski-mask, and instruction.


With the purchase of "Visit the best sites" you will also receive:

*A brick with a bullet lodged in it (one per family, subject to availability)
*A certificate for having corrupted a local authority signed by the governor
And on and on it goes.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Change of Strategy in Juárez

This from Excélsior:
Change of strategy in the Operation Chihuahua. Starting today, Mexican army troops will leave the urban area of the city and their place will be occupied by around 2,000 Federal Police. In addition, Federal Police helicopters and unmanned airplanes will keep watch over the city.

Considered the most violent city in the world, with 191 homicides per 100,000 residents, the federal government decided to change strategy and take the Mexican army out of the urban area.
Hard to guess if this will have any impact at all, but I guess as long as Juárez remains such a disaster zone, the government can't just sit on its hands. But it might just be that, in the short term at least, the forces driving the violence in Juárez are immune to any government action short of a total lockdown of the city.

Hatfields versus McCoys, Mexican Politics Edition

The political dight du jour is Felipe Calderón versus Leonel Godoy, the governor of Michoacán. Or, more accurately, it's the Calderóns (who are from the same state) versus Godoy, and if you go back deep enough, it's the Calderóns versus the Godoys. Like any good feud, it has deep roots, what with the Federal Government arresting several officials in Godoy's state without prior warning, and with the standing warrant out for the arrest of his brother. And like any good feud, it spills over for often petty reasons; in this case, Godoy was mad because Calderón's sister, who is likely the PAN candidate for Godoy's post when he leaves office, went to a state event without Godoy's consent. Honor is being challenged. Expect fisticuffs.

Dropping Crime

According to El Universal, the FBI says that the number of murders in Nuevo Laredo dropped from 18 in 2008 to just seven in 2009. Nuevo Laredo, you may remember, was ground-zero for drug war hysteria for much of the past decade, but it never was Juárez (more here). But one should be at least a bit skeptical of those numbers, because a) NPR reported 55 murders in 2008, not 18, and b) the lack of murders isn't the product of the government's triumph over crime, but just the opposite.

Helping Haiti

For anyone who's interested, here are some posts that name some places where you can make donations to help the residents of Haiti recover from the earthquake that has killed an estimated 100,000 people.

Update: More specific info for Mexico residents here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage

I have a piece at Global Comment about the recent culture warring. Otherwise, expect a light day here at Gancho; lots of outstanding work.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

No Surprise: Juárez is Scary

Not a huge surprise, but Mexico's Citizen's Council for Public Security and Penal Justice has named Juárez the world's most dangerous city, with a murder rate in 2009 of 191 per 100,000 inhabitants. Things are off to an even bloodier start in 2010, with 100 murders in the first ten days, and 26 more on the eleventh.

I'd be interested to see a sociological study on why people keep joining gangs in Juárez. Let's say that 4 percent of the Juárez are members of or regularly do illegal business with criminal gangs, and that 90 percent of the murdered come from that population. That means that we are talking about 2,500 dead from a population of about 60,000. Which means that if you run around with gangs for three years, you have a better than 10 percent chance of being killed. And those odds are only on their way up thus far in 2010.

(Four percent is, of course, a rough estimate, and the extent to which I'm off determines how valid the point I'm making is. I'm not sure how I arrived at 4 percent, but for comparison, the LAPD homepage says that the city has roughly 41,000 gang members of a population of 3.8 million, which is a rate of just over 1 percent.)

So what do the kids who join the gangs get out of it? I always figure that most adolescent boys who join gangs are looking for a combination of belonging and power and easy money, and suffering lack of alternative ways to spend their time, and that whatever added danger exists is a price they are willing to pay, in large part because the danger of dying is so remote. But in Juárez, the danger isn't so remote, but more and more like a game of Russian roulette.

The Months Ahead

Experts, ranging from Lorenzo Meyer to Lorenzo Córdova to others not named Lorenzo, told El Universal that the passage of genuine reform legislation will be a tricky proposition this year.

PRD Senate boss Carlos Navarrete says that this year will indeed be fiscal and political reforms, though surely he's not talking about passing the programs proposed by the Calderón administration. The mere fact that Navarrete, the leader of the staunchest opposition party, is promising it seems a good sign that something will pass, but the question, of course, is what that something will look like.

More here.

Huge News

Teodoro García, also known as El Teo and the dominant figure in the Tijuana underworld in the post-Arellano Félix era, has been captured. He was arrested by federal troops (no word on which branch) in La Paz, Baja California. Though slightly less notorious, García marks the second huge fish to be arrested or killed in less than a month.

Today in Hyperbole

Mike Sando on the Cards-Pack classic:
The NFL should retire Warner's lucky No. 13 jersey after the 38-year-old legend completed 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns during the Arizona Cardinals' 51-45 victory in one of the league's greatest games. (Emphasis mine)
It was a great contest, in a video game sort of way, and Warner was fantastic, but let's not go overboard.

Plus, Noah Millman on Avatar:
On the other hand, people have compared the movie to Star Wars: Cameron has created a whole new world, using wholly new technology, that will change forever the way movies are made and the way we perceive our own world.
Millman is paraphrasing others' reaction, not offering his own. Even so, does anyone actually believe it will change the way we perceive the world? It's a movie, not cocaine.

As long as we're on reactions to Avatar, this bit from Christopher Hitchens was funny:
It is reported that in his declining days last month, Yamaguchi was visited in the hospital by the celebrated movie director James Cameron; a still small voice advises me that any script arising from this encounter is liable to stink very strongly indeed.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mitofsky on Same-Sex Marriage

Here's the report that Carlos Loret was referring to last week. Some relevant findings: 46 percent of Mexicans said that homosexual couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples, compared to 47 who did not feel that way. Thirty-three percent of respondents felt that gay couples should be allowed to marry, compared to 58 percent who said that they shouldn't.

Interestingly, there is greater hostility toward lesbian couples than homosexual male couples, at least in terms of child-rearing: 33 percent said that an all-female couple should be able to adopt a child, compared to 58 percent who went the other way, while the corresponding figures for men were 23 and 68 percent. (Then again, maybe that's not so interesting, and is typical of such polling; I've never seen the two findings compared before.)

Digging a little deeper, the salient variable here is age: the young were more open to rights for same-sex couples across the word. For instance, 53 percent of people aged 18 to 29 said that gay couples should have the same rights as heterosexual pairs, and 40 percent said that they should be allowed to marry, which is seven and eight points above the norm, respectively. The corresponding figures for people 50 and up were 35 percent for equal rights and 22 percent for marriage.

It's interesting that there is not a corresponding slant for educational level; on virtually every issue, people with a primary school education or less were the least likely to support gay rights. But the Mexicans with a university degree weren't the most likely to support gay rights on any single issue, and in some cases, the minority of Mexicans with a college degree lies beneath both those with just a high school and those with only a middle school education. On marriage, for instance, college-education Mexicans are six points below the national average.

Promoting Science in Mexico

The OECD has recommended that Mexico split its Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) into two, one devoted to administering the nation's educational system much as it does today, and a separate cabinet agency dedicated to promoting science and allocating resources.

Mexico's lack of attention to science has long been a favorite subject of mine. The OECD suggestion seems like a decent idea, but I'm not convinced that this is necessarily the solution, or at least not the whole solution. It could be just the boost the kick in the scientific pants that Mexico needs, but the government has lots of empty-shell cabinet agencies, and there's nothing to assure that this one will be an effective agent for greater promotion of science, rather than an effective leech of tax dollars. Beyond a new science agency, what's needed is a broad-based government commitment to promoting science and giving Mexico's science stars the chance to apply their talents at home. Whether or not a divided SEP is a better avenue to that remains to be seen.


Macario Schettino on the upset caused by the government raising the price of gas:
Our politicians must be small, if a small adjustment in the price if gasoline serves as an obstacle to political reform. Small in vision, in ambition, and understanding, without a doubt.

I won't repeat the arguments that I expressed in the financial section, I will remind you that growth in demand of gasoline in Mexico is one of the highest in the world (because of the relative cheapness of cars) and already 300,000 of the 750,000 barrels of gas that we consume daily are imported. Maintaining the price of gas low is absurd, and it has been for a while. The government is merely correcting a mistaken policy, but its adversaries perceive in this rise a small victory, commensurate to the adversaries themselves, and they don't hesitate to fight for it, whatever the cost.
This episode reminds me of the gas tax dustup between Obama and Clinton during their primary battle, during which the president came off looking responsible and presidential, despite taking on the harder position to explain to a cash-strapped electorate. It'd be nice to see someone follow his lead.

For the record, with the hikes regular unleaded gas costs about $2.50 a gallon here. Also, here's the financial section piece that Schettino referred to.

Lack of Confidence

El Universal published a poll last week on Mexicans' expectations for the new year. And they aren't very optimistic: 55 percent say that the economic situation will worsen in 2010, and 52 percent say the same about Mexico's politics. For each question, only 21 percent say it will be better this year. I'm not sure Mexicans should be thrilled about the light recovery, given that in 2011 the economy will still be smaller than in 2008, but this is the picture of a nation more pessimistic than the circumstances warrant. I suppose it's possible to imagine a scenario in which economic performance in 2010 is worse than 2009, but I think a volcano eruption or a catastrophic flood would have to be involved. [Knocking on wood...]

Sad Stuff

A couple of tragedies stemming from the cold weather buffeting Mexico: a local PRI boss in Hidalgo named Carlos Guzmán crashed his car in a ravine and fractured his leg this weekend; he managed to pull himself out of his car and sheltered himself under a tree, but he was unable to go for help. He was later found after having succumbed to hypothermia.

Also, corporate titan Moisés Saba died along with five others in a helicopter crash, which may or may not have been weather-related, in the state of Mexico.

It remains freezing (by Mexico standards, anyway) today, and a new cold front is forecast for later this week. Travel safely everyone.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Vargas Llosa on Legalization

Mexican eyebrows were raised by Mario Vargas Llosa's criticism of Calderón's anti-crime stance today:
[I]t doesn't matter how many capos and killers are killed or arrested nor how many shipments of cocaine are captured, the situation will only get worse. The fallen narcos will be replaced by others, younger, more powerful, better armed, more numerous, who will maintain in operation an industry that has extended across the world for decades without the blows against it amounting to any significant wound.


Is there, then, no solution? Are we condemned to live, sooner rather than later, with narco-states like that which President Felipe Calderón wanted to prevent. There is. It consists of decriminalizing the consumption of drugs through an agreement of consumer and producer countries...
The piece is good in that it's not a utopian legalization fantasy, but rather paints legalization as the best of two bad options.

However, I see two problems: I'd say that Vargas Llosa underestimates the government's capacity to have at least some influence on that state of affairs. After all, Colombia is better than it was in Escobar's heyday, in large part because the gangs operating there are smaller and less powerful, which in turn is in large part due to the government's having developed the capacity to take down the biggest fish. Similarly, there is no American equivalent to Chapo Guzmán, basically because criminals in the US are arrested long before they gain such notoriety. I agree that winning the war on drugs is a fantasy, but that doesn't mean we are all on an inexorable march toward a world of narco-states.

Furthermore, I think in Mexico's case, it's important to note that legalization is a long-term solution to the nation's criminal problems, rather an avenue to an immediately improved security climate. Personally I am convinced that Mexico, the US, and most of the world would be better off if in 20 years, some drugs were legalized (marijuana certainly, and maybe other drugs as well). But Mexico wouldn't be better off tomorrow if marijuana were suddenly legalized. Organized crime wouldn't just disappear; the gangs would just branch out into extortion, kidnapping, and other estimable endeavors, as many groups already have. Their profits would be smaller, however, and their heirs in the next generation would presumably fewer as a result, which would lead to criminal groups less threatening to the state. Eventually.


I am watching the final moments of the Ravens-Pats game on Fox Sports Latin America, and José Pablo Cuello* just sent a saludo to a female coworker who evidently has aspirations to one day do the color commentary for an NFL game. Said aspiration provoked a chortle from one of his co-announcers, Fernando Von Rossum Garza, as well as the following response: "Women have other chores at home."

Von Rossum actually tried to say it twice, but Cuello, sensing what was coming, spoke over him the first time. Von Rossum waited for his moment, then pounced, before being rebuked by his presumably petrified partner.

I remain shocked to have heard that; as much as you might hear about Mexican machismo, such an open expression of it in the mass media is very rare.

*I'm not 100 percent sure who said what; José Pablo Cuello, Fernando Von Rossum Garza, and Ernesto Del Valle are the announcers, and I am reasonably certain that it was Von Rossum who uttered the offending comment. If I am mixed up, I preemptively offer a gigantic apology to Von Rossum.

Rough Day

Mexico's collective hopes that 2010 turns out to be a safer year are off to a disappointing start: according to El Universal, 69 people were killed as a result of organized crime yesterday. Excélsior is reporting a lower number, but even its figure of 52 deaths would make it the deadliest day of Calderón's term. Twenty-six of those killed were in Juárez, according to the El Universal numbers.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sarukhán on Immigration

Via Greg Weeks, Arturo Sarukhán recently had some interesting things to say about immigration reform:
"Having spoken about it publicly at times in the past ... has done a great deal of damage to our countrymen and our allies in the United States," he said.

Sarukhan said a general amnesty that would automatically legalize undocumented migrants "cannot be the solution," because "the radical conservative wing in the United States would immediately mobilize to torpedo it."
That sounds to me more than anything like a shot at Jorge Castañeda, who was as vocal in his time as Mexico's foreign minister as he has been in the seven years since he left the post about the need for a comprehensive reform. Like Weeks, I think Sarukhán is right on the merits, but of course Calderón's team has another big reason to be unhappy with Castañeda.

Lingering Impact of the Crisis

The number of new students at Mexico's private universities is down by about 5 percent, despite the universities' flexibility in tuition payments in order to prop up sinking enrollment. The reason, of course, is the higher cost at private schools combined with the poor economic climate.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Under the Radar

Using info from the ubiquitous Edgardo Buscaglia, The Economist points out that for all the recent successes in attacking drug gangs, few of those arrested are associated with Chapo Guzmán. Buscaglia's data was new to me, but I've wondered the same thing in recent months. For whatever reason, despite that it's been a long time since I've heard or read much in the media about Calderón having a capo consentido.

Anyway, here's a highlight:

Officials insist there is no going back to the old practice in which Mexican governments turned a blind eye to drug gangs provided they acted discreetly. If Sinaloa has been hit less hard, it is because it operates differently. It has stuck to a “transactional” rather than “territorial” method, says one official. Other gangs, such as La Familia and the Zetas, a particularly violent outfit of former soldiers, began to control cities and diversify into extortion and kidnapping. When the government deploys troops to reclaim the streets, it is these gangs whom they run into.

Sinaloa, by contrast, has stuck to drugs and money laundering and is smarter and more sophisticated. It prefers anonymity to the ostentation of others (Mr Beltrán was undone by inviting a famous accordionist to play at a Christmas party). It eschews jobless teenagers, its rivals’ rank and file, in favour of graduates, infiltration and intelligence. Although all the gangs have penetrated local governments, only Sinaloa and the Beltráns have been discovered to have bribed senior officials. Officials complain that Sinaloa operatives receive warning of pending raids. Sceptics wonder whether success against other gangs comes from tip-offs from Sinaloa.

I'm not sure how true that is, since much of the violence in Juárez is attributed to Chapo's aggressive entry into the city, and the stories about big-time musicians playing for Chapo are legion. But it is interesting, in any event.

The article also includes an early nominee for the Monumental Understatement of the Year:
Some residents of Ciudad Juárez are growing restive over the government’s failure to stem the violence.
That sounds like something you would read about a moderately unruly city council meeting in suburban Charlotte, not a place where the murder rate is around 200 per 100,000 inhabitants.


Making Up Is Actually Pretty Easy To Do

Senate leader Manlio Fabio Beltrones and Interior Secretary Fernando Gómez Mont, whose cooperation is vital to the passage of fiscal and political reform over the next few months, have found themselves on opposite ends of a media shouting match in recent days, with the dispute centering on a hike in the price of gasoline. Beltrones accused Calderón of not working with Congress on the issue, Gómez Mont fired back that Beltrones was childish, and the smell of blood was in the air. (Although that last part has more to do with my house being around the corner from a butcher's shop.)

But as has been the case over the course of Calderón's term in the presidency and Beltrones's in the Senate, the bad blood is subsiding quickly, with Beltrones calling the president a trustworthy negotiator on television yesterday. If only Pacquiao and Mayweather could learn from their capacity to kiss and make up.

Unfortunate News

The first Mexican journalist of 2010 has been murdered. He is Valentín Valdés, and he was a founding journalist of the Zócalo de Saltillo. Valdés was abducted along with two coworkers, who were released.

Governor Hopefuls

A few high-profile state executive aspirants have emerged in the past couple of days. First, Lino Korrodi, a high-profile fund-raiser for Vicente Fox way back when the ex-Guanajuato governor was putting together a presidential campaign, will run for the PRD in Tamaulipas, where the PRI has long been dominant. In Michoacán, which has long been governed by the PRD, presidential sister Luisa María Calderón has been mentioned as a possibility for the PAN. And in Chihuahua, where both the PAN and the PRI have a strong presence (though the latter has been in the driver's seat recently), former deputy bigwig César Duarte will run for the PRI's nomination.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Same-Sex Marriage Polling

Carlos Loret refers to a Mitofsky poll (which I've not seen) that has 60 percent of Mexicans rejecting same-sex marriage, with 70 percent expressing disapproval of same-sex couples adopting. A December survey from El Universal polled DF residents, with 50 percent coming out in favor of same-sex marriages, compared to 38 percent against. The reasons for those who were against were striking. Only 7 percent pointed to Church teaching, with another 18 percent using values as an explanation. Thirty-nine percent said they were against same-sex marriage because it isn't normal. Given that normalcy (unlike faith) is a relatively fluid concept, that would seem to suggest that acceptance is likely to grow. The 67 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds who said they were in favor of same-sex marriage also indicates where the nation (or at least the capital city) is going.