Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mitofsky in February

Mitofsky's latest poll shows that despite all the coverage of Juárez and the improving economic figures, 69 percent of the nation thinks that issues related to the economy are Mexico's biggest problem, compared to a little more than a quarter who say that security issues are paramount, although the numbers shifted toward security by almost five points in the past three months.

Another interesting piece of info is Mexicans' approval of Calderón compared to that of their respective mayors and governors. The president earned a 53.4 percent approval in the quarter ending in February, which compares to 55.3 percent for mayors and 65.5 percent for governors. All of these have been dropping for the past year or so, and the mayor and Calderón ranking have flip-flopped a number of times since 2007. But the governor's rating has been consistently ten or so points above the other two executive positions. Why is that?

Fuerza Chile

Above, Chupete Suazo celebrates one of his two goals against Getafe and commiserates with his countrymen half a world away. I've not seen any of his games since he jumped from Monterrey to Zaragoza, but his stat sheet (four goals and three assists in seven games) and his team's improving performance (11 points in seven games for the league's fourth-worst team) indicate that Suazo's adjusted quite well.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Worried about the Alliances

Calderón says that the electoral alliances with the PRD worry him. Too bad he doesn't have a powerful position in the party so that he could do something about it. Oh, wait.

Calderón seems to be selling the idea that he is above the political fray, and he has no responsibility for the alliances. Any political decisions come from César Nava, and Calderón can disapprove of them like any ordinary panista, but he can't interfere with the process. That's simply not credible. PRI big shot Jesús Murrillo, for one, doesn't believe it. But it's not a silly strategy simply because it beggars belief; even if you give the president the benefit of the doubt, he comes off looking like a powerless dupe despite occupying the most important position in the country. He's either disingenuous or impotent, neither of which is a very appealing trait.

Everything Is about Security

Mexico's Health Secretary José Ángel Córdova met with American ONDCP boss Gil Kerlikowske in Washington earlier this week, in which both sides expressed disapproval of legalization. This is the second time in two months (that I'm aware of; there could well be more) in which a Mexican cabinet official has visited Washington only to be met not with his counterpart but a security official, and in which his own department's issues (not insubstantial in this case) are shoved aside in favor of a focus on security. That's not the best way to convince Mexicans that the US has a broad conception of the bilateral relationship.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Another Odd Denial

Calderón insisted yesterday that his government isn't protecting Chapo Guzmán or anyone else. There's a reason that one avoids answering wild charges in order to avoid dignifying them. I doubt anyone who thought Calderón was protecting Chapo believes he isn't today, so all he accomplishes is getting his name into a headline next to that of the country's most notorious drug lord. If he really wants to convince those people certain that he isn't in a league with Chapo, perhaps Calderón's team should capture him.

Odd Denial

Rather than going into the background of this, I'll steal it from Richard:

Yesterday, William Booth of the Washington Post reported:

For the first time, U.S. officials plan to embed American intelligence agents in Mexican law enforcement units to help pursue drug cartel leaders and their hit men operating in the most violent city in Mexico, according to U.S. and Mexican officials.

Later in the day, Arturo Saukhan, the Mexican Ambassador to Washington, and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, denied that that any United States agents are working in Mexican territory and that there are no plans to seek a change to Mexican law to allow such operations.

Of course, there ARE U.S. agents working in Mexico (we have a Drug Enforcement Agency office here in Mazatán. and –when the news cycle is slow — you can count on an expose of the U.S. agents at the Mexico City airport (looking for U.S. citizens transferring from Cuban flights to U.S. ones, no doubt) — but they aren’t “embedded” and, it sounds as if this is either wishful thinking on the U.S. government’s part, or Booth is talking about trainers of some sort… which isn’t controversial, given that Mexican police and military units have received training from Israeli, French and Spanish police in the past.

I had the same reaction to Sarukhán's denial. American agents have long been known to operate on Mexican soil. The examples of it are legion: Enrique Camarena, the two DEA agents who were nearly abducted by Osiel Cárdenas, et cetera. Not only are such examples many, they are not controversial, or at least, they haven't been. There was a controversy a few years ago about whether DEA agents (I believe, although maybe it was another branch of the US government) could be armed, but not whether they could be here. And even that controversy was more about hair-splitting over the explicit right versus the accepted custom.

Brazil-Mexico Trade Agreement

BusinessWeek says that Brazil and Mexico are planning to begin talks on a possible free trade agreement. (H/T) The local press is describing the initiative as an Agreement of Strategic Economic Integration, which presumably would be slightly less than an FTA. Gerardo Ruiz, Mexico's secretary of the economy, emphasized that further integration would benefit the United States, further evidence of the somewhat odd prism through which Mexico's economic choices are considered.

Trouble out on the Oil Platform*

After being escorted off the premises at gunpoint, employees at the Pemex facilities in Reynosa, which shares a border with McAllen, Texas, called the army. When the soldiers responded, their helicopter was fired upon by a group of truck-bound suspects. The army now reports that they captured the trucks, but won't acknowledge whether or not their were any detainees (which is really worrying for a group that has had serious human rights accusations made against it, and is a sign that the army is not serious about addressing them), but it did find four tons of marijuana on the site.

Pemex's relationship with organized crime is nothing new, but it's generally been the criminals stealing and then selling oil. Using Pemex as a holding station is something new.

*I guess it's not a platform, but the above makes a better, folksier 1950s-ish movie title.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Aguirre's Sorry

Javier Aguirre's Mexican national team looked pretty good in a too-easy tuneup against Bolivia tonight, winning a 5-0 laugher (two goals for Chicharito in his debut with the big club). More performances like this one should lead Mexico to forgive and forget his comments about the insecurity in his nation. He's already apologized, some say as a result of arm-twisting from way up high (i.e. Fernando Gómez Mont). Carlos Loret says he has nothing to apologize:
This reporter doesn't know if Aguirre imagined that no one would find out about his words, or if he was animated by a Spanish red wine or if he was just comfortable in the interview, but this much I know, he didn't say a single lie and his critical exercise doesn't exhibit a lack of commitment to his country or his team.
I'm not sure I agree with that. Aguirre, of course, is free to speak his mind, but he's also a representative of the country, an ambassador before the world, of sorts. What he does reflects on Mexico. And he wasn't asked specifically about insecurity; he was asked "How's Mexico?" He volunteered, "Fucked up", and then expanded on his views at length.

And then there's this, from the same interview:
There are a lot of expectations regarding the Mexican team and then there are voices that go overboard. Champions? Mexico is what it is, it was 15th in Germany, in Korea when I was coach it was 11th and four years before that in France 13th and four years earlier in the US it was 13th.
He may be right, about all of it. But it's not unreasonable to expect the national team coach to hide his pessimism a little better.

A Sentence for Osiel Cárdenas

Osiel Cárdenas, the former Gulf trafficker extradited to the US in the opening weeks of the Calderón presidency, has been sentenced to 25 years in an American prison.

Size of the Exodus

The El Paso police places the number of recent arrivals from Juárez at 30,000, which is significantly less than the 100,000 that this article referred to, based on figures from ICE. That's a pretty big gap, although one would expect the federal immigration agency to have better tools for making a reasonable estimate than the local police. Whatever the case, lots of juarenses (as many as 500,000) are leaving town.

Complaints from Carlos

Carlos Salinas says that Mexico should make an effort to transfer the ownership of banks operating on national soil to Mexicans. He argues:
The Germans wouldn't permit its banks to be held by foreigners. Now that in the US their banks went under, they didn't let any foreigner arrive to save them, they don't let foreigners in.
This strikes me as odd, not least because one of those most responsible for the influx of foreign banks is Salinas himself. Furthermore, I don't know about Germany, but the argument about the States is just not true. To take but one obvious example, Barclays acquired Lehman Brothers in 2008. Other foreign banks, from Credit Suisse to ING, operate on US soil, and have long done so. Why is Salinas lying? And when did he turn into a populist on financial issues?

Unfortunate First

La Laguna is now mentioned on the State Department's travel warning because of recent violence in the region. As a result, business groups are worrying that investment will be driven elsewhere.

This kind of thing illustrates why the standard narrative about political collusion with the organized crime --politician X sold the city to drug gang Y-- is a bit simplistic. Politicians are much more products of the surrounding business community than the criminal community. Given that it's horrible news for local business, the travel alert is bad news for the elected officials. In other words, a surge in violence is decidedly not in the interest of local politicians interested in continuing as politicians. There certainly are cases where local officials do in fact sell the plaza to one group (although often in such cases the guilty parties are federal appointees whose popularity among the local voters is largely irrelevant to their career), either because he (or she) is scared, or he has a skewed view of his interest, or he values the kickback more than his future electoral prospects, but it doesn't seem logical in most cases.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More on Brazil-Mexico

Sean Goforth trumpets the possibility of greater trade between Mexico and Latin America's largest economy:
Strengthening ties to Brazil, on the other hand, offers significant economic -- and strategic -- potential for Mexico. Mexico's oil sector has been declining since the 1980s because the state-owned oil company, PEMEX, suffers from gross inefficiencies and a lack of deep-sea drilling capacity. Petrobras, Brazil's state-owned petroleum company, has the capacity to aid PEMEX in tapping the estimated 30 million barrels of crude deposited beneath the Gulf of Mexico. It can also invigorate PEMEX's refining capacity (Mexico is forced to import 40 percent of its oil because it lacks refineries), and expand Mexico's presence in the biodiesel market.

Additionally, Brazil's growing middle class is ripe for Mexican durable goods. Home ownership is growing rapidly in Brazil, and consumer credit has expanded by more than 20 percent annually since 2002. Unlike Europeans or Americans, Brazilian consumers were undaunted last year, another hopeful sign. Hitching its economy to another large consumer market would diversify Mexico's exports, and would likely engender a positive cycle by attracting foreign direct investment into Mexico in order to target the Brazilian market.

A pact with Brazil could also prove a strategic coup for Mexico. Brazil's opposition to U.S. agricultural subsidies is currently the biggest barrier to a regional free trade agreement between the Americas. The prospect of being excluded from a trade pact between Latin America's two largest economies may entice the U.S. to negotiate on its agricultural subsidies as a means of relaunching a hemispheric trade deal. (Currently the U.S. is only offering to negotiate on agricultural subsidies via the Doha talks at the WTO.) Opposition by populist leaders may impede a regional free trade deal in the short term, but if the U.S. reconsiders its subsidies, Mexico stands to benefit regardless.

Building ties with Brazil offers Mexico better prospects than with Europe, but the two needn't be mutually exclusive. Indeed, Brazil's growth could mean the rapid development of domestic enterprises that could whittle away room for Mexican goods, leaving a narrower window for developing trade ties than with Europe. And in either case, trade cannot cure all ills, as NAFTA attests.
I think that last bolded part is key, and it's equally (if not more) applicable to Mexican trade with the US. Both sides of the argument often imply that it's an either/or question: either Mexico puts its eggs in the US basket, or it looks south. On trade, that's not really necessary. (Politically it's a little more complicated.) If Mexico were to increase its commerce with Brazil or any other nation, as an overall percentage of Mexican commerce, it's not like the gross trade numbers with the US would have to decline. Rather, everyone gets wealthier. Mexico doesn't turn its back on the US in expanding trade with Brazil or China or Europe, any more than the US does by doing business with the same nations.

Scary Interview

Pablo Escobar's ex-chief hit man sat down for an interview from his prison in Colombia with the newspaper El Tiempo. This quote is generally reflective of the tenor of his comments:
I'm a privileged man because I have seen my worst enemies fall, I watched Pancho Herrera die like a dog and saw the Rodríguez Orejuelas extradited, scared and crying. A person watches his worst enemies die from jail and it's very gratifying.
Evidently the years in the can have not softened him. This reminds of the bit from Richard Pryor when he went to prison looking for solidarity with the oppressed, and came out saying "Thank God we have penitentiaries".

Chapo's Underling Talks

One of Chapo Guzmán's alleged lieutenants, a Sonoran named José Vázquez Villagrán, was arrested earlier this week. It's not clear how close he was to Chapo (in this video he admits to talking with him on the telephone exactly once), but in any event he does offer some comments about Chapo's operation. Among them: Chapo's prohibits kidnapping, he controls the North, and he has a close eye on what's going on in his organization. In Vázquez's words, "Everything gets kicked up to that man." Again it doesn't seem that we're talking about a close confidant so the info may not be 100 percent reliable, but it's worth noting that this conflicts to certain extent with the declaration of Eduardo Medina Mora last year that Chapo was more of an emblematic than operational boss.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dumbing Down the Titles

One of the more irritating little things in Mexico is the tendency to perform radical surgery on the titles of movies, virtually always making them more anodyne, trite, or, obvious (and sometimes all three at once). Anything that smacks of subtlety or mystery is removed; in its place some bit of inanity or over-literalness is inserted. One good example is No Country for Old Men, which became Sin Lugar para los Débiles, or (roughly) No Space for the Weak, in the Mexican edition (though only with the movie title; the book was translated faithfully). But the best example is The Informant, which turned into El Desinformante in Mexico, which is to say, the exact opposite of the original title. As a result, the pleasant uncertainty about the protagonist's own shady doings, which was clearly a purposeful element of the film's first half, disappears. In addition to undermining the director's intentions, I don't see what would be the reason for the dumbing-down. Do the title translators somehow assume that the Mexican public would be driven away by an indirect title? Is the theory that calling the movie El Informante would have lowered ticket sales? It baffles.

On Same-Sex Marriage

The PAN's posture strikes me as a bad political and policy move. Also, the Supreme Court dismissed the challenges to Mexico City's law filed by a handful of PAN-governed states last week.

Generals on Drug Combat

Colin Powell admitted in an appearance in Monterrey that the US has not done enough to limit demand for drugs. These kinds of comments seem to be growing more frequent from American officials (Hillary Clinton won plaudits for similar comments last March), and I suppose it's better to acknowledge that fact rather than deny it, but it also reminds one of the kid who earnestly apologizes for some bit of mischief that he will most certainly repeat if given the chance.

A slightly less famous general, Mexican Defense Secretary Guillermo Galván, said last week that the fight against drugs can't be continued forever and that Mexico's Congress needs to pass security reforms as soon as possible. The article only paraphrases his comments, so as far as the "fight" against drug traffickers (which was also paraphrased as a war at one point), it's hard to know if he means the use of the army or just the generalized spirit of combat with drug traffickers.

Making History

Chivas defeated Puebla 3-2 on Saturday, to give it seven victories in seven games this season, a record in the Mexican league. If recent history is any guide, this regular-season dominance almost assures them a disappointing result in the postseason.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

New Website

I encourage everyone to check out a relatively new blog from Peter Krupa called Lat/Am Daily. It's well written, it includes lots of great contextual info, and it touches on everything you might find on the region in a week's worth of the Post or Times, in a fraction of the words.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Good News from Tijuana

The military stationed in Tijuana is reporting a 70-percent drop in "high-impact" homicides from last year. It doesn't explicitly define "high-impact" (and one suspects that the numbers could be cooked a bit through that bit of semantic limbo), but the piece refers to it as though it were a synonym for organized-crime murders.

But assuming there's some degree of truth to the report, great news. Let's hope it stays that way. It's also pretty odd given that Teo García, the king of the town's underworld, was arrested a few weeks ago, and such arrests usually lead to a vacuum and power struggle. I suppose this is a reminder that the logic guiding organized crime (or what seems to be the logic from an outsider's point of view, which is by definition a bit distorted) frequently contradicts itself.

I'd not read a lot about Tijuana this year, but most of what I had focused on a series of attacks on seemingly innocent teenagers. Although Daniel Hernandez's warning about not being overly content with drops in crime rates while the overall level of violence remains severe is worth repeating.

The Most Important Stat of the Year

Excélsior reported earlier this week that almost 300 people were arrested for public urination at Carnival this year. This was not a throwaway detail in the above-linked story, but rather its reason for being. Don't ever accuse the Mexican media for being overly Mexico-focused.

For more on Carnival, check out Mr Trend's posts this week at Alterdestiny. Though unless I'm mistaken, he let that oh-so-important figure slip by him.

Other Provisions of the New Kidnapping Law

I missed this yesterday: the law seeks to impose life sentences on convicted kidnappers, and also proposes to outfit with released offenders electronic surveillance devices. As always, harsher penalties are worth debating, but they won't accomplish much without improving the police's ability to locate and arrest kidnappers. In other words, impunity is a much, much bigger problem than lax sentencing.

Also, Beltrones expressed approval of the proposal.

Simmons on Woods

Bill Simmons' reaction to Tiger Woods' statement yesterday was a pretty good illustration about how writing about famous people for a living warps your appreciation for their impact in society. The piece opens:
Say this much about Tiger: People give a crap. I don't know anyone who didn't watch this morning's speech. There isn't another athlete -- not one -- who could have made the world stop from 11 to 11:15 like Tiger Woods did.
I don't live in a cave, and I know zero people who watched it, nor did anyone mention it to me yesterday. Of course, I do live in Mexico, but I can't imagine that among my family and friends in the States, much more than 10 percent stopped what they were doing to watch the press conference live. It was mildly interesting when new information was still coming out and before the supply of stupid jokes had been exhausted, but ever since then, it's been kind of tiresome.

Simmons later writes:
In a few weeks, or a few months, Tiger will start hitting golf balls and everything will be fine again. I just want to get there. For now, we apparently have to put up with a few more weeks (and possibly months) of the Tiger Woods Rehabilitation Tour. There will be more rehab, more staged photos, more secrecy and eventually a carefully planned interview with the right person who won't be a threat to ask him anything interesting. Wake me up when he plays a tournament.
If your reaction to the press conference is to spend an afternoon pretending you were Tiger's PR guy while writing a nearly 3,000-word article about it, I think you kind of forfeit the right to complain about the excessive coverage of Tiger's non-golf activities. I don't mean to sound like one of those people who constantly brags about not having a TV, but no one's forcing you to pay attention to Tiger (I guess that logical disconnect explains the need for the falsely premised opener). That's not a judgment; if you like that kind of stuff, great, have at it. It's a hell of a scandal. If you don't, that's fine, too, and luckily there's a billion other things, both high-brow and low-, that can occupy your attention on any given day. But don't complain about the Tiger circus while making a significant contribution to it.

The piece did, however, have a couple of good insights, particularly this one:
Like so many other mega-celebrities who became famous too early, it's as though they never properly develop the part of their brain that controls this question: "How can I win over the person I'm talking to right now?" When you become famous too early, you don't have to win over anyone. You just have to exist.

Wikipedia Hi-jinx

Evidently, someone mistakenly" named Andrés Manuel López Obrador as the producer of the telenovela Yo Amo a Juan Querendón on the show's Wikipedia page. With his heightened sense of melodrama and villainy, el Peje probably would put together a hell of a novela, but in fact he was not involved with the program in question, as he was otherwise occupied in 2007.

Odd Dreams

Last night I dreamt that I was part of an armed commando unit that was going to break someone out of prison. The leader of our team: Marcelo Ebrard. I bailed on the plan, thinking that it was a suicide mission, and the dream ended with me hiding in a house, quite scared of Marcelo's reaction when he found out I wasn't going to be coming along. I don't quite know what to make of that.

Friday, February 19, 2010


One element of the new Juárez policy that deserves a bit of praise* is its relative clarity: Calderón established a timeline for implementation of the new strategy (100 days), and placed the responsibility for the federal government's activity on the shoulders of a trio of officials. These are baby steps (Calderón could have gone further in connecting implementation to specific goals; as it stands now, a 20 percent decline in murders would probably lead to the government congratulating itself for a job well done, but Juárez would still be the most dangerous city in the nation by a wide margin), and it's not clear that even a perfectly designed strategy would do a great deal to reduce violence in the short term, but this goes further than most security initiatives in establishing the criteria by which the plan and its creators can later be judged.

*Actually, much of the plan shows innovation and creativity that had been absent; unfortunately, it took two years of bloodshed to bring the newly nimble approach around.

Scandal of the Week

It's a repeat offender: Procampo, the agricultural subsidy program that earned ridicule in July of last year for its general ineffectiveness, was back in the news this week when it was discovered that relatives of Chapo Guzmán and Secretary of Agriculture Francisco Javier Mayorga were big-time recipients of the Procampo subsidies. As a result of the uproar, the Procampo coordinator has left his post, but Mayorga is staying put, saying there is nothing illegal nor unethical about his relatives receiving around $800,000 in government subsidies. Assuming the relatives' business properly qualified for the money it received, I'd say he's right. Of course, the Procampo official presumably fell on his sword because of the payments to drug traffickers, and you could argue that if he had to, Mayorga should as well, regardless of his brothers. Another stat that emerged out of all this: 30 percent of all active agriculture in Mexico is dedicated to growing illegal crops, according to the Supreme Agricultural Tribunal. Mayorga denies this, however.

Explaining Juárez's Problems

According to an UNAM study, 64 percent of Juárez residents between 15 and 24 years old neither study nor work. That leaves around 150,000 with nothing to do occupy themselves, which of course offers a fertile market for gang recruitment.

New Law

Felipe Calderón has submitted a new kidnapping law to the Senate. It will increase penalties for kidnappers, permit government wiretapping, and encourages undercover police work. Those all seem like sensible ideas, but I'd like to repeat what I said last year about a victims-rights laws:
Laws like these aren't a bad thing, but the reason that extortion, et al is such a huge problem is not the lack of a victims' rights law, but the fact that those charged with investigating and punishing such crimes (namely the police) are largely corrupt and/or incompetent. A new law won't be worth a whole lot if the Mexico doesn't improve the quality of the people who implement it at the most basic level.
In other words, the solution to Mexico's kidnapping problem cannot be primarily legislative.

Another Enemy for Elba Esther

It's the UN, whose local education rep says that the secretariat of public education is essentially subordinate to the teacher's union (the SNTE) headed by Elba Esther Gordillo. It also said that the much-heralded Alliance for Educational Progress was little more than a political agreement. One hopes that such pointed criticism from an esteemed international body might spur some action, but then again Mexico's been hearing similar comments from the OECD for years.

It seems that much of this criticism comes from the point of view that the a strengthened SEP needs to be the white horse to defeat the evil SNTE. That may be partly true, but in my not-insubstantial experience with the SEP, it's also an embarrassment, to put it mildly. I have had no dealings with the SNTE, so it may well be worse (a scary thought), but I've never had any interaction with the SEP that didn't start from a pointless premise, that didn't include hours of time wasted, and that wasn't marked by inexplicable inefficiency and a lack of professionalism. If the SEP is the white horse, God help Mexico.

This Week's Panistas Fed Up with the PAN

First there's the fantastically named Lía Limón, who doesn't agree with her party's posture on same-sex marriage.

Second, with a good bit more publicity, there's Manuel Clouthier, who criticized Calderón's security strategy for its lack of commitment to Sinaloa, criticized the subsequent criticism of his comments, and is now listening to calls for his resignation from the party. More on that here from Richard.

A certain amount of sniping and disunion is only natural as the presidential campaign approaches, but a lot of what's been pulling the PAN apart in recent months isn't the inevitable electoral jockeying. That's got to be a bit worrying for PAN supporters.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mexico's Dilemma

Mexico's roster for next Wednesday's friendly against Bolivia has been announced, and it is heavy on really talented players who've not been able to crack the national team ranks with any consistency in the past. (He lacks the profile of his fellow goalies, but I think Jonathan Orozco at his best is as good as than any other keeper in Mexico.) The new face everyone is most excited about is Javier Chicharito Hernández, a 21-year-old who can't stop scoring goals (eight in five games) for a Chivas team that can't stop winning (18 points in six games, their best start in more than half a century).

Hernández and another of the forwards on the list, Aldo de Nigris, reflect what promises to be a tough decision for Mexico; should they rely on potential superstar European talents like Carlos Vela, who's played relatively well but sparingly for Arsenal, or Mexico-based players like Hernández and de Nigris, whose prestige might be lesser but whose nose for the net is more finely tuned at this point? Maybe it's dilemmas like these that are driving Aguirre out of Mexico.

More on the Same-Sex Marriage Challenge

Here's Leo Zuckermann:
According to a spokesman from [the PGR], for them its strictly a judicial matter and "not based on social, political, or religious considerations". Why do the panistas hide their conservatism and shield themselves with legal arguments? Why the shame at defending their values? Could it be because, as Héctor Aguilar Camín says, the conservative reaction against gay marriage only hides the profound homophobia that exists in our country? Would it embarrass panistas to admit that prejudice?

These days I have heard some liberals that are in favor of gay marriage, and their right to adopt, but that believe that it was an error for the capital city government to approve this law because it will wake up the powerful "conservative lion" that exists in Mexico. They argue that, as was the case with the decriminalization of abortion, this will unleash a conservative reaction that will not only set liberal legislation in Mexico City back, but will also promote regressive legislation across the country. I don't share this worry. If this type of law awakens the conservative lion, then it is welcome. Liberals will have to confront this carnivore, as long as it doesn't hide behind "strictly judicial" arguments.
In further news, Ebrard characterized other states' challenge to Mexico City laws as "unacceptable".


In its first big extradition in a long time, Mexico sent Vicente Zambada, the son of Ismael Zambada who was arrested last March, to the United States.

More here.

Mexicans More Optimistic about the Economy, Less So about the President

According to the latest Mitofsky numbers, Calderón's approval rating has sunk to 52 percent. This is the lowest Mitofsky rating of Calderón's term, 16 points down from his high in March of 2009. If there can be a silver lining to that kind of information, the impressions of economy continue turning lightly upwards. The proportion of people saying that Mexico was on the wrong track dropped to 54.5 percent, the third straight month of decline; the people with negative economic expectations for the year ahead slipped to 74.1 percent, which is the fourth consecutive drop. These are still quite negative numbers (although Mexicans are traditionally pessimistic in these types of polls), but they are trending in a positive direction.

Since there was a several-months lag time between the explosion of the financial crisis and the implosion of Calderón's popularity, it seems logical that as the popular perception of the improving Mexican economy takes hold over the next several months, Calderón's popularity should bounce back a bit. News like the upward revision of Mexico's official GDP growth projection will only help this process along, albeit slowly. Although, at that point it could be too late for his popularity to have any impact on his agenda, if it ever did.

Brad Will Update

The man blamed for the murder of the American journalist and activist in Oaxaca Brad Will has been exonerated by a judge. The accused, Juan José Martínez Moreno, must be released in 24 hours. The case was riddled with logical defects and unanswered questions, not least why an APPO activist like Martínez would kill a man who openly sympathized with his cause. Martínez has been jailed since October 2008.

More Anti-Gayness

Five states, all run by PAN governors, have seperately filed legal challenges to the same-sex marriage law passed in Mexico City late last year. Officials from Morelos, Tlaxcala, Guanajuato, Sonora, and Jalisco all are seeking the right to deny recognition of same-sex marriages carried out in Mexico City.

Planning His Exit

Javier Aguirre says that after the World Cup is over, he's leaving his job as Mexico's national coach and heading back to Europe. I thought this was a mild dig at the appeal of the job and an expression for his preference futbolística for Europe, but in fact it was a rather direct shot at Mexico's security problems. So says the coach:
[Violence] has permeated the society, without a doubt, I remember 20 or 25 years ago when I still played football drug traffickers were active, but they took care of business between themselves, today you can't walk around calmly because suddenly there are problems and you are caught in the middle, I'm of course someone known, respected, but one never knows.
I hope that doesn't mean he's planning on Mexico not performing well, because that really would endanger his wellbeing. Everyone enjoys the right to feel safe in their everyday existence, but you have to wonder if Aguirre could have handled this in a way that didn't tar the image of his country. The hysterical newspaper openers all but write themselves:
The violence has now grown to the point that even a revered figure like the national team soccer coach is voluntarily exiling himself.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shopping for Russian Choppers

I'm not sure what to make of the fact that now that the helicopter-happy phase of the Mérida Initiative is over and American dollars are going toward other goals, Mexico is shopping for Russian aircraft. Is this just an ironic coincidence? A sign that Mexico really did need all those helicopters more than anything else? A kick in the teeth to the US for shifting the focus of the aid money? All of the above?

New Prosecuter

Mexico's special prosecutor for crimes against journalists has been replaced; out goes Octavio Alberto Orellana, in comes Gustavo Salas. The Inter-American Press Society is happy, as it viewed Orellana as inactive. That complaint echos a view I heard when I was working on this article. I believe that despite ample opportunities (60 murdered journalists in Mexico since 2000 according to the CNDH; a fraction of that number but still quite a few according to the Committee to Protect Journalists), Orellana never prosecuted a case.

Attacking Money Launderers

Western Union's agreement to pay $94 million to the American government as a penalty for contributing to money-laundering made news on both sides of the border last week. Over the course of a decade, gangs used Western Union to send drug money from the US back to Mexico. The negative publicity will probably encourage not only the offending company but also other financial institutions to tighten up their internal anti-laundering practices, which is of course a positive development, but it's worth noting that even using an very conservative $10 billion annual estimate of drug income, the fine represents less than one tenth of a percent of the total revenue from drug trafficking in Mexico during that time period.

That's still, however, more than Mexico accomplished in attacking dirty money. I don't know the ins and outs of the recently passed asset-seizure law, and it could be that for technical reasons it's very difficult to apply liberally (although the recent criticism from Carlos Navarrete would seem to indicate that it's more a matter of will), but it's an open secret which bars and restaurants are fronts for drug traffickers here in Torreón. As ever, more could be done on this issue.

More on the Constraints on Mexico's Municipal Governments

This from an interesting study from Mund Grouup:
The municipalities seem to be an afterthought in terms of funding by the federal and state authorities, but in the final analysis they are a litmus test of the historic limitations of federalism in Mexico.

With the exception of the local property tax (the “predial”) and some minor fees, the municipalities depend on federal government funding. While a “federalist” reform from the sexenio of Zedillo provided for many transfers from the federal government directly to the municipalities, the states retain a kind of “sticky” hand in the process.

The property tax is a weak reed to lean on. The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) has studied the question of the property tax as a funding source of local governments, providing a startling insight into the Mexican municipal problem. As a rule of thumb, the OECD notes that developed nations collect property taxes at a level from 3% to 4% of the GDP. This is the situation with the US and with the UK. Mexico is at the bottom of the OECD list of nations collecting less than 0.4% of GDP in its property taxes; many municipalities collect less than 0.2%. The municipal governments are perennially under-financed.

They are also woefully underrepresented in lobbying. The CONAMM (National Conference of Municipalities of Mexico) is an association of the various technical, regional-thematic and partybased municipal associations. But, the strongest political lobbying is done by the FENAMM (Federation of Municipalities of Mexico includes some 1,510 members) affiliated with the PRI.
Mexico's got more pressing reforms at the moment, but at some point legislation further federalizing the nation's governing structures is going to be needed.

Today in Presidential News

Calderón is heading back to Juárez. Presumably hoping to avoid another chilly reception like last week's, his business this time will be of the closed-door variety. Also, he says that he has complete confidence in his secretary of the interior, the ex-panista Fernando Gómez Mont. Of course political protocol requires him to say so, but if he truly has the same confidence after Gómez Mont after he unilaterally made a series of promises in a political negotiation compromising his entire party's electoral decisions without initially informing anyone, then I have decidedly less confidence in Calderón.

Update: I should add that the last sentence takes Calderón's denial of knowing about Gómez Mont's quid pro quo at face value, which virtually no one is doing.


Inegi reports that 12.6 million Mexicans now work in the informal sector, which continues the up, up, up trend that financial crisis initiated. The article linked above also mentions unemployment figures around the nation. The industrial North has a some of the idlest states: Chihuahua has 8.5 percent unemployment, the highest in the nation. The figure for Durango is 7.2, in Coahuila it's 7.4, and in Nuevo León it's 6.7 percent. Meanwhile, in the South, which is less reliant on exports to the US, the picture couldn't be more different: 2 percent of Guerrero's active labor market is unemployed, 2.1 percent in Oaxaca, 2.7 percent in Chiapas, and 3.2 percent in Yucatán and Veracruz.

I mentioned
last week how the South of Mexico in a relatively short time has gone from a major locus of violence to a big reason why, record drug violence notwithstanding, the nation is safer now than ten years ago. Unemployment in that region is traditionally low, so it can't explain the whole of that transition, but achieving full employment certainly doesn't make public security more complicated.

Testifying on Mérida

Security officials from the Calderón administration appeared before congress last night to talk about the Mérida Initiative and underuse of security resources at the local level, among other topics. The officials revealed that 260 different municipalities around Mexico are not using all the security resources available to them. This goes along with the report last week that Mexico's city governments collectively ignored about $200 million in federal security subsidies. Some cities, including perennially endangered border towns like Piedras Negras and nearby Monclova (which was home to a major federal anti-drug operation last week), didn't spend a single cent of their federal subsidy. This follows similar reports of failing to take advantage of all available resources from last May.

I've not seen any response from local officials about this, but I wonder if part of the problem is capacity: lots of municipal governments, long deficient in autonomy and over-reliant on the federal government, don't have the know-how to make multi-million dollar security purchases, whether they are hardware or police certification programs (such as the Certipol program at the Instituto para la Democracia y la Seguridad) or whatever. In any event, the inability of municipal governments to police their jurisdictions remains a major handicap for Mexican public security.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Adrián Rueda slammed the government of Marcelo Ebrard last week for not heeding warnings from the federal authorities about the coming storms that ended up paralyzing parts of the city:
Everything indicates that the Mexico City government was aware of the emergency, but they didn't give it importance; now Ebrard, skillfully, appears on the streets handing out refrigerators and money to citizens whom he didn't alert about the danger.

Because we shouldn't forget that the capital government has denied to make public the risk map for Mexico City, which signals the vulnerable zones in case of earthquakes, floods, or rains.

And that's without taking into account that the previous UNAM administration tired of warning the Mexico City government that it had to address the drainage problem in the city or it could flood; El Peje told them to go to hell and here are the consequences.
For what it's worth, the local and federal governments seem to be cooperating now: a crash plan has been hammered out by Ebrard's, Peña Nieto's, and Calderón's governments to complete 42 hydraulic and drainage projects in the next 120 days, just in time for the coming rainy season in the Mexico City region.

The Missing Bric

That's not a Shel Silverstein title, but rather Gideon Rachman's label for Mexico. His column for the Financial Times seeks to explain why Brazil, India, China, and Russia are part of an elite club from which Mexico was excluded. The basic thrust of his conclusion seems to be security, which is the subject of the first six paragraphs of the article. One of those graphs was a meek acknowledgement that Mexico is not as dangerous a place as it is made out to be, but the effect of that section was limited by the fact that the other five basically furthered the very image the author admitted was untrue. Irritatingly, Chapo Guzmán's Forbes ranking was the piece's opener, a reminder that the magazine's decision to rank him among the world's richest was not just stupid in an academic vacuum, but harmful in a practical sense.

Anyway, since Mexico is on average much safer than both Brazil and Russia, one can only conclude that insofar as Mexico's security problems inhibit economic growth, it is mostly a problem of image. And among the largest impediments to improving that image is influential columnists viewing Mexico almost exclusively through the prism of its struggles with organized crime, and in the process inflating the significance of that challenge.

Rachman tackles other elements of Mexico's problems later in the column, such as over-reliance on the US, monopolies, and Calderón's relative lack of prestige compared to Lula (although the same charge could be labeled at virtually every world leader not named Obama). He could have also mentioned that the somewhat arbitrary concept of Bric nations is much tidier than the reality, and being left out isn't like being demoted from the Premier League. (After all, Russia, hardly a paragon of economic dynamism, is a Bric nation.) Such explanations may be more boring, but they are also more important.

Misleading Headline

Excélsior tells us today, "Mexicans fear drug trafficking more than the crisis". That contradicts the consistent findings of the more reliable polls in Mexico (pretty much all of them except Pew show that the economic problems weigh on Mexicans more heavily than security), so it grabbed my attention. As it turned out, the poll was whether drug traffickers or the financial crisis represented a greater "national security" threat, a phrasing that of course tilts the playing field toward the former problem. Between drug trafficking, the arms trade, public insecurity, and kidnapping, 96 percent of Mexicans say that crime-related activities represent the greatest national-security threat to the nation. (Although if you add up all of the percentages offered, it slightly exceeds 100 percent, so perhaps we should take the article with a grain of salt.)

Other findings: schools are the most trusted institutions in Mexico, with 80 percent of Mexicans believing in the nation's educational institutions. This is followed by the Church (75 percent) and the army (74 percent). At the bottom of the list were the unions (30 percent), the police (29 percent) and the deputies (28 percent).

Cash for Juárez

The federal government has set aside more than $50 million for social programs for Juárez. As with the price tag for better police, I tend to think that the cost is not the best way to measure seriousness and progress in improving Juárez. Even so, $50 million doesn't seem like a whole lot of money, given that Mexico is a middle-income nation, Juárez is the most dangerous city on the planet, and the politicians are really serious about it this time. The article doesn't go into a whole lot of detail, but it says that a little more than $20 million will be directed toward building five schools, and implies that the remainder will go toward health programs and building hospitals. And given that Juárez is on the American border, it would make both political and practical sense for some of the Mérida money to go toward pacifying El Paso's next-door neighbor.

Leaving Town

Inegi says that Juárez has lost some 24 percent of its population in the past two years, presumably due to violence. Around 60,000 families and 300,000 people have hit the road. Other studies say the exodus is even worse; the city's public university (UACJ) estimates that the number of ex-juarenses is closer to half a million.

Reasons for the Resignation

Fernando Gómez Mont has admitted that the reason for the renunciation of his PAN membership was a pact with the PRI to shoot down electoral alliances between his party and the PRD in Oaxaca, in exchange for PRI support over the budget bills late last year. (It's not clear to me if his said of the bargain was to avoid any PAN-PRD alliance, or just make sure that Gabino Cué wasn't the alliance's candidate. In any event, Cué is the candidate, and Gómez Mont felt obligated by the pact to resign.) The Interior Secretary didn't go into a lot of details, but he says that he made the promise to the PRI on behalf of the federal government without Calderón's knowledge. Gómez Mont also says that Calderón wasn't aware of the pact being hammered out between his party and the PRD.

I imagine that most people will assume this is a fib aimed at cementing the image of Calderón as above the political fray. I have no idea if it's true or not, but if it's a lie, it's certainly not a lie that makes Calderón look very good.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chabat on Juárez

In a column colorfully titled "Ciudad Juárez: aspirin for pneumonia", Jorge Chabat says that the social elements of the plan for Juárez are too late in coming:
In summary, a catalogue of measures that it would be hard to question. Nevertheless, everything indicates that the new strategy in Juárez responds more to the political pressure deriving from the killing of the young Juárez residents than to the magnitude of the problem.

The proposals announced by Calderón seek to satisfy those sectors that think that the development of organized crime is directly linked to social inequality. Nevertheless, such a position doesn't exactly define the problem. It's true that the growth of common crime is directly associated with social inequality. And organized crime also feeds off of common crime. Which is to say, a criminal career begins with small crimes until it climbs to organized crime. That's why it's important to have a preventative and social development approach, as is applying the law with minor crimes, with the goal of preventing young people from developing a criminal career. The problem is that once organized crime takes root, as has been the case in Ciudad Juárez and in a good part of the country, the preventative approach has little or no impact in reverting the phenomenon.


In Ciudad Juárez the crime-prevention measures without a doubt failed. The problem of the deterioration of the social fabric was not addressed and common crime grew. But the application of the law also failed.
In other Juárez news, 2,000 Federal Police troops are on their way to Juárez. A portion of this group will focus on protecting bars and nightclubs, while another will seek to prevent extortion by operating in commercial areas. Also, local businessmen are not satisfied with Calderón's plan for the city.

Estimates for Arms Traffic

The ATF says that 300,000 arms go from the United States to Mexico on a yearly basis. Jorge Castañeda referred in his recent article to the lack of credibility of the "oft-quoted claim" that 2,000 assault rifles slipped over the border every day. I'm not sure how often that claim is made (I wouldn't say it is rote by any measure), but this stat from the ATF would indicate that he's right, and a mere 800 weapons travel from the US to Mexico on a daily basis. Not that this should make us sleep all that much better.

The Cash That Is Needed

A Senate study says that up to about $8 billion would be needed for Mexico's police to become the effective crime-fighting force a modern nation deserves. The figure doesn't sound that outlandish, but the price tag can be a deceiving way to approach the problem of approving Mexico's police. The missing attribute isn't primarily cash, but a consensus about how to fix the problem (nationalizing the local police versus keeping the present model is just one of the many dilemmas that remains unsettled) and the political will to then go ahead and do so. And that can't be bought. Mexico's political class already has all the reason in the world to put aside their philosophical and electoral differences and chart out a path to better police and a safer nation, but, as the recent political sniping related to Juárez policy has shown, they aren't ready to do that despite increases in violence.

On the Mérida Initiative

I have a piece about Obama's re-upping for another year of the bilateral counter-narcotics package. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 14, 2010


A while back, Leo Zuckermann addressed the failure of legislative reelection to win approval from anything approaching a majority of the public. He wonders if the lack of support for reelection comes from a broader dissatisfaction with Congress, and agrees with Gancho that right now reelection advocates should focus on public opinion rather than enacting such an unpopular (if well intended) reform:
According to the latest National Survey on Political Culture and Citizen Practices in 2008, 54 percent of Mexicans feel that the deputies represent the voters' point of view only a little or not at all. Only 11 percent consider that, when passing laws, legislators take into account the interests of the population. A mere 5 percent say that they have asked for the help of a deputy or senator. And all of the polls demonstrate that the two houses of Congress are, together with the police and the parties, among the institutions with the least trust granted by the citizenry. Against that backdrop, it seems to me that many Mexicans are asking themselves, why should we give these men who represent us and so bother us the right to reelect themselves?


[Those of us] who believer in reelection have ahead of us the task of persuading public opinion. We must explain the benefit of this modification. It's not easy in a political culture where the word "reelection" has a negative connotation. That is, therefore, the challenge that I think requires the coordinated efforts of politicians, academics, intellectuals, journalists, and citizens that are in favor of legislative reelection, not as a magic process that will solve all of the nation's problems, but that will demonstrably improve the performance of our democracy.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

On Dirty Money

Edgardo Buscaglia and Samuel González estimate that some $25 billion (or about 70 percent of the industry's total annual profits) is laundered in Mexico's economy each year "by organized crime and drug traffickers". At some point, especially as the efforts to divert cocaine shipments outside of Mexico become more ingrained (assuming that they do) and as Mexican marijuana shipments are substituted by American-grown dope, I think it will be important to start distinguishing between drug trafficking specifically and organized crime in general. The two terms are used pretty much interchangeably in Mexican media, but the former is obviously a subset of the latter. Although drug trafficking surely constitutes the most significant portion of criminal income in Mexico, it's not the only one, and seems destined to occupy a decreasing piece of the pie.

As for the above stat, I'm not sure if it's because the authors didn't ask or the experts didn't offer, but there's no mention of whether or not that $25 billion refers to drug money or extortion payments or human trafficking.

Upping His Stake

Carlos Slim has exercised his right to increase his share of ownership in the NY Times, forking over just over $100 million (reportedly collected by shaking out the cushions in his couch) to raise his stake from 7 to a bit more than 16 percent.

Castañeda on the Impact of Castañeda

Via Malcolm Beith, Jorge Castañeda reviews his own book in a recent Newsweek column:
Through public debates with declared presidential candidates, meetings with students, and discussions with businessmen and political activists in many corners of Mexico, Aguilar Camín and I have begun to move the country away from the body- and head-count of the country's bloody drug war, and its understandable obsession with violence and organized crime.
A pretty high opinion of his influence, don't you think? Also, as a matter of fact, he just wrote a long article slamming Calderón's "war" for a major American magazine in which the body count appeared in the third sentence. Incidentally, Beith thinks he's running for president in 2012.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sort-of Old Pieces on Juárez

Last week from Jorge Montaño:
Juárez and El Paso created a promising development zone. They were cities of similar size, capable of attracting investment with a regional impact. Their inevitable closeness stimulated a mobility in both directions. The negative part was the serial murder of women, which was marked with impunity. This incompetency generated justifiable reactions that inhibited investment. The vaccuum was occupied by organized crime, with local, national, and international examples.

In the last five years, the tolerance of the state authority consolidated criminal structures that have advanced despite the massive deployment of Federal Police, replaced by the army that was in turn again replaced by Federal Police. This disorder has made Juárez's criminal bands opt for guerrilla tactics, mocking the elite corps. The operational hesitation confirms that the federal government in the creation of trustworthy institutions, which explains the actions of marines in Cuernavaca or constant purges of police commands.
The piece is titled "Mexico is Juárez", but it doesn't really make that argument. But Leo Zuckermann dealt with that question a bit last week:
Ciudad Juárez is Mexico but not all of Mexico is Ciudad Juárez. It's important to make the distinction. The rot in this failed town is not anything close to the reality of the entire country. Nevertheless, it's all of Mexico's job to combat the infected boil on the national body that is Ciudad Juárez. A fetid ulcer, which every days oozes more pus, that should give us shame. The federal, state, and local governments must integrate a Ciudad Juárez Commission that, with the participation of civil society groups, proposes as soon as possible a series of public policies in every sector that immediately solves the unacceptable situation in that locality.

Theories for Gómez Mont's Decision

Beyond the reports of it being related to his upset with the electoral alliances with the PRD, nothing concrete has emerged explaining Gómez Mont's resignation from the PAN. But wild interpretations abound! One perredista says it is all part of Calderón's grand strategy. Carlos Ramírez says it makes AMLO stronger, and will turn Oaxaca into "Calderóns Waterloo". Peña Nieto says that the decision was "congruent" with the Secretary's convictions. The PRI is also denying that it has any agreement with Gómez Mont that motivated the decision.


This spooky photo (sorry, no image; when I right-clicked on it, they kindly asked me not to copy it, and I kindly acquiesced) of a murdered drug dealer in Tijuana won an honorable mention for the World Press Photo snapshot of the year in the contemporary issues category.

Getting Back to Normal

A sign that the economic alarm bells in Mexico are quieting*: the nation will not extend the credit lines of $30 billion from the Federal Reserve Bank and $47 billion from the IMF, although a lower credit line from the IMF will remain in place. When the credit line was announced last year, there was some chatter that this was a bad decision by Carstens and a possible sign of a future meltdown (Rogelio Ramírez de la O compared it to Salinas' policies before the 1994 catastrophe), but in retrospect such worries appear to have been unfounded.

*Though not before many of us are left with permanent hearing loss.

Juárez Ambivalence

Felipe Calderón spent yesterday in Juárez, an occasion that precipitated the mobilization of 10,000 federal troops and the arrest of a handful of protesters. Admitting that his government hadn't listened to the people of Juárez, he presented a new security program for the city that will strengthen the schools and will provide training programs for 13,000 unemployed locals. He also defended the army against human rights complaints and promised that it will not be taken off the streets.

It appears as though a threshold has been broken and local and federal officials alike are approaching the border city's problems with an open mind and a new sense of purpose. The massacre that sparked the flurry of attention on Juárez was truly awful, so this reaction is logical and, insofar as it reflects the government responding to the citizens' needs, admirable. At the same time, why did it take so long? Juárez has been the most dangerous city in the country for than two years. It has been arguably the most dangerous city in the world for a year. Horrible as it was, the murder of the 16 teenagers two weekends ago was not the only mass killing in Juárez over the past two years.

Likewise, Juárez's educational problems are severe; we should all be scandalized by the fact that, according to Proceso, the West Side of the city, where 40 percent of the city's population (or about 600,000 people) resides, has only two operating high schools. Good for Calderón for including this in his new strategy. However, this is an issue that existed in 2006 when Calderón took office; that would have been a gigantic obstacle for the city even without the recent explosion in violence; and that I imagine is repeated in lots of other border towns, which means that there are several if not dozens of other bubbling social cauldrons that we aren't paying sufficient attention to simply because they have not yet spilled over into anarchy. I don't mean to complain about Calderón and co. finally addressing a longstanding challenge, nor do they deserve more blame than the other leaders who've ignored the deep-seated problem for generations, but one can't help but wonder if there would be 1,500 gangs operating in Juárez today if what is being pronounced with great fanfare today was carried out quietly ten and twenty years ago.

I also worry that if the Juárez strategy, with its conspicuous focus on social issues, doesn't work, it will discourage a socially conscious security approach elsewhere in Mexico.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Amusing Understatement of the Day

This from The Evolution of God:
In the days before modern anesthesia, requiring grown men to have penis surgery in order to join a religion fell under the rubric, disincentive.

Abortion Polling

Mitofsky has a new report on abortion. As to whether or not a woman should be allowed to get an abortion when she wants one, 49 agreed entirely or in part, while 45 percent disagreed entirely or in part. There are strong inclinations toward a more favorable opinion of abortion among the urban, the wealthy, Mexico City residents, and the young. (The abortion trend was far stronger than the corresponding preference for same-sex marriage among the first two demographic categories.) The difference between male and female views was virtually nil.

One of the most interesting findings is the trend on whether or not abortion should be a crime. In April of 2007, only 20 percent said no, while 74 percent said yes. Today, after 17 states have criminalized the procedure, 46 percent say that it should not be a crime, compared to 41 percent who say that it should. To me, this says that there is indeed a deep reservoir of anti-abortion sentiment in Mexico, but it's much stronger in the abstract than in reality. For a large sector of Mexico, once their more distant beliefs on abortion come into contact with the reality of criminalization, they become less avid in their pro-life stances.

Loret on Money Laundering

This from last week:
If there is no financial war, there is no war. The frontal attack on drug trafficking, wielded by President Calderón since the beginning of his term as a legitimacy strategy and an emblem of his government, has lacked throughout this time a fundamental ingredient.

For public viewing, we see arrested cartel leaders, lieutenants, chiefs of hit men, hit men, financial operators, city bosses, corrupt officials, falcons, soup-makers, high and low-caliber weapons, fake uniforms, radio communication equipment, armored cars, bricks of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, but almost never --expect in that memorable case of the "Chinese" Zhenli Ye Gon-- large quantities of money nor bank accounts with juicy balances.

The UN calculates that Mexican drug traffickers launder $30 billion per year in Mexico. The government doesn't know where that money is and, what's worse, it doesn't seem to be looking for it.
This column and other similar complaints presumably led to the Tuesday news story that I wrote about yesterday. It's not an adequate response.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Another JMF Piece

Last week Jorge Fernández Menéndez had this to say about the reports of a drug trafficker realignment in Mexico:
[I]t's a confirmation of what many of wanted to deny, without basing their opinions on evidence, that the government pressure has obligated these organizations to deepen their contractions and embark upon an internecine war that will wind up exhausting them. It's not politically correct to say it, it sounds much better to speak of legalizing drugs or of seeking new strategies (never saying what these would be), or even negotiating with the cartels, but the reality is that the governmental pressure, despite all its shortcomings, is bringing the cartels to these levels of self-destruction.
I agree with Fernández about the logical flaws in much of the criticism of Calderón, but I'm not sure of the conclusion that the realignment can be directly attributed to the government's pressure. After all, criminal gangs aligned and realigned with great frequency well before Calderón arrived to the presidency. Or was born, for that matter.

Also, I find Fernández to be among the most informed of the security experts whose work I read regularly, and I almost always feel smarter for having read his columns. However, his writing is a clear demonstration that the most important rule for young people learning how to write effectively is:
Short sentences! Short sentences! Short sentences! I will grant you three clauses from capital letter to period, dear boy, provided that one of them is subordinate; should you exceed your quota, I will bring this ruler down on your wrist with terrific force!
I of course don't advocate corporal punishment in response to sloppy writing, but these Nile-esque sentences represent a problem that seems to be growing worse. My theory is that thanks to text messaging and IM chats, the proportion of writing for kids today* leans more toward non-academic, unstructured writing than in generations past.

*I can't believe I wrote that phrase in a non-ironic context.

Unexpected Development

Interior Secretary Fernando Gómez Mont renounced his membership in the PAN earlier today, for reasons that he didn't specify. I've seen no explanation as to why, but he was a vocal opponent of the electoral alliances with the PRD, and I imagine that most of the speculation will center around that dispute. For the moment, he is independent. At least one PAN heavyweight said that this isn't a big blow to the party, but it's hard to see how the resignation of the most important cabinet member from the party can be interpreted as anything but.

Update: The decision was due to the alliances.

Good Year

I believe this is literally the first time I've ever had the occasion to write anything positive about Pemex: two years after a deadly accident claimed the lives of 22 employees of the oil giant, 2009 was the safest year in the history of the company. Its rate of 0.42 accidents per million man-hours of labor made last year safer in Pemex than in Shell, Chevron, and other titans of the oil industry. If only they could have the same success in increasing production.

Different Takes on Juárez

Here's Alberto Aziz Nassif:
Every day it's worse. There's no exit in sight and the measures that the federal government have taken have failed. But instead of recognizing it, Felipe Calderón talks of a "new strategy" that he's going to negotiate with Juárez residents. What is the cause of all this ineptitude? A government that decided to confront organized crime without having a strategy, without instruments, without calculating the levels of corruption that are in the police and the judicial systems of the state. A government that decided to send in the army, as if this option was going to resolve anything, when it's well known that the army can't work as a police agency. Where are the necessary reforms to attack organized crime? Where is the project to make a national police unifies multiple corporations?
I'd say this is a bit unfair; Aziz gives Calderón a 0 and you can argue that he doesn't deserve a passing grade, but he has indeed made an effort. For instance, Aziz asks where the reforms are. Well, last April the government passed a potentially significant asset-seizure law, and in 2008 there was a groundbreaking judicial reform. There are certainly issues with the application (see the Carlos Navarrete's recent criticism of the government for not using the asset-seizure law), but the idea that Calderón's team has done nothing but twiddle its thumbs isn't accurate.

And here's someone with a very different take on public security, Jorge Fernández Menéndez:
One [option for Juárez] that should be considered seriously is establishing a sort of state of emergency in the city and its metropolitan area, as agreed to by the city, the state, and the federal government, so as to recover territory and establish limits that are essential in the present environment. One example is visible only a few meters from Juárez, in El Paso, where the members of gangs (that's where Los Aztecas and Los Artistas Asesinos, who are directly responsible for a good part of the murders that have been committed in the city, come from) are prohibited from going out, except in cases of evident urgency, starting at 10 at night. These rules have been established, for example, in the Barrio Azteca of El Paso, where the gang that carries that name comes from and operates with enormous liberty on this side of the border.

It will be said that it's not necessary, that this way the civilian population is sacrificed, but the fact is that this plan seeks to recover tranquility and that, with certain measures, such as this one, much more control can be achieved.
Fernández Menéndez was also very supportive of the decision to move the state government operations to Juárez, which has provoked a great deal of criticism of Chihuahua Governor José Reyes Baeza.

Against Money Laundering

The Mexican government seems to be pushing back against the idea that it has not paid sufficient attention to money laundering: a report from Excélsior yesterday says that the National Commission on Banking and Securities receives about 70,000 requests for information a year with regard to investigations of money laundering. That's a big number, but it's hard to know what to make of that without a little context or explanation, neither of which is forthcoming. The idea that Mexico's government in all its power launches 200 independent investigations into crooked money a day is simply not credible.

In any event, what this positively doesn't show is that more people are going to jail for money laundering, or that drug traffickers are having their pseudo-legitimate businesses taken from them because of their connection to dirty money.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Final Decision

After weeks of rumors, Mexico's Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the IETU, the corporate alternative minimum tax. According to Excélsior, this means that the 40,000 business who had filed the injunction against the tax will now have to pay some $7 billion to the Mexican treasury.

The Beginnings of a Fascinating Study

Via the Mexican Institute, the Associated Press ran an article about the fact that as bad as Mexico's conflict with organized crime has gotten, the country is still safer than it was a decade ago. It hints at the reason here:

During the height of the Zapatista uprising in the mid 1990s - a rebellion fueled by land conflicts - southern Chiapas state had a rate of nearly 40 per 100,000 people with 1,000 homicides a year. By 2008, that fell to 8 per 100,000 people with 364 killings.

It's not just Chiapas; throughout Mexico's southern region, rural killings have dropped off the charts since the 1990s. Given that the degree of the decline is such that a five-fold increase in drug killings in three years is more than offset, this is rather remarkable, a mini-Mexican miracle in the midst of the anarchy in Juárez and widespread violence across the North and in much of the interior of the country as well. I suspect that much of that is unrelated to Marcos, but I'd love to see a deeper explanation.

Gangs in Mexico and in Juárez

The PGR says that there are 5,000 youth gangs operating in Mexico, and 1,500 in Juárez alone, which is roughly one gang for every thousand residents.

This definitely fits with the idea of Juárez being violent not only because two kingpins have decided to fight it out (which is true), but because there's just a more generalized social unraveling in the city. You also get the feeling that there's such a proliferation of autonomous violent groups that it's beyond the power of one or two or three hegemonic groups --be they the government or Chapo Guzmán's people-- to keep a lid on it all.

The Path for Peña Nieto

Enrique Aranda lays out the primary tasks facing Peña Nieto as he makes his way toward a presidential candidacy:
Resolve his personal relationship with the actress Angélica Rivera, which whom it is said that he will be married between May and October, as he himself intimated in his recent visit to the Vatican.

Resolve his succession, which, in the opinion of those in the know, includes two well positioned prospects: federal deputy Luis Videgaray, his former secretary of finance, and, also, the present leader of Congress in the state, Ernesto Nemer.

Widening his present position, in such a way that the high approval and awareness ratings that he has in recent polls that are for the most part taken in the preferable terrain in the center of the country, are repeated throughout the breadth and depth of the country.

And building an expertise that, added to his efficient and popular government, will permit him to forcefully project himself toward 2012, while, it is said, spending time participating in issue forums and consultations that, in time, will allow him to form a program, a governing program, for the next presidential term.
I'm not sure if it says more about the author or the subject that the first item on his list has to do with his personal life, the next two are purely horse-race political concerns, while actually preparing himself to serve as president is a virtual afterthought. And this regarding a politician about whose ideology and economic philosophy we know little, to boot. A Peña Nieto campaign and presidency has the potential to be an orgy of superficiality.

Angry Felipe

I'm not exactly sure why, but I found this note on a brief explosion (relatively speaking) of anger from Felipe Calderón rather amusing. Evidently, he got fed up with a bickering pair at a meeting about the flooding in Mexico State:
Hold on, hold on. Ssshhhhhh! One moment both of you. Calm down, calm down! Look let's work on this, look both of you, both of you please wait. Wait ma'am, and you too.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Some big arrests of people evidently very important to Chapo Guzmán today: a man alleged to be his Colombian connection was arrested in part of a big operation in that South American nation, and El Teo's replacement Raydel Gómez was picked up in La Paz. Gómez, incidentally, is known as El Muletas, or the Crutches, one of the most bizarre and colorful narco-nicknames I've heard.

Intraparty Frustration

Last week Bajo Reserva had an interesting piece on PAN frustration with the party's push for a Supreme Court rejection of Mexico City's same-sex marriage law:
[A]mong the panistas, not everyone is in favor of declaring a war on gay marriage. Some argued that Mexico City has other more pressing priorities. Many requested independence and time for consideration. But, we are told, Mariana Gómez del Campo employs a coercive leadership. She pressures, and pressures. Some say that she has exploited her relationship with the presidential family. She bases her own power on Felipe Calderón and Margarita Zavala. Lastly, in the Legislative Assembly, she pressured the issue of a constitutional challenge of the law that permits marriage between people of the same sex. She requested that legislators signed it without seeing it. And many, especially those with the strongest links to civil society (where the PAN grabbed many of its candidates in recent elections) growled. Mariana Gómez let some time pass, and she has now begun to show signs of avenging what she considers "affronts". There will be changes in the legislative committees. Read: those who are forced out are those who dared to respond to Mariana.
Update: The NY Times had a piece this weekend on the conflict.

Abortion Stats

As a result of the abortion prohibitions passed around Mexico over the past several years, almost 60 women in just three states (Puebla, Veracruz, and Guanajuato) are in jail for violating the local laws.

On Castañeda

I have a piece about Jorge Castañeda's takedown of Felipe Calderón's crime policy. It probably reads as a defense of Calderón more than I would have liked, but really my issue was more with where Castañeda finds fault and how he presents his case. I agree that there certainly are serious shortcomings in Calderón's crime policies, but I'd say they are more related to execution rather than concept, whereas for Castañeda it seems to be the reverse. (When I refer to concept, I'm talking about the realm of the politically possible today; the basis for drug prohibition is shaky, but I don't think we can blame Calderón for the status quo.) More to come about my opinions of where Calderón's team went wrong later.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

More on Juárez

Two days ago, the federal government (in the form of Fernando Gómez Mont and Felipe Calderón) promised not to leave Juárez to its fate (which sort of implies that they had been doing so over the past two anarchic years, which is a) not exactly true and b) an odd tacit admission for the authorities to be making), and said that the whatever measures are forthcoming would be determined with the close collaboration of residents of the border city.

Today, the Chihuahua state government moved some of its operations as a way of combating the violence in the city. Also authorities in Chihuahua caught another alleged participant in the killing, who said that the orders were to fire indiscriminately on the party-goers.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Floods in Mexico

The State of Mexico is presently suffering from some acute flooding, which authorities say will create serious problems for 10 days or so. Like the Juárez residents fingering Calderón for the massacre of 16 teenagers last weekend, some neighborhoods are demanding the presence and support of Enrique Peña Nieto as they recover. (At the risk of making this too much about politics...) Given that in the last big-time emergency in his region he was conspicuously absent, it'll be interesting to see what people make of Peña Nieto's performance here.

Update: Actually, it's not just the State of Mexico, but much of Central and Southern Mexico. Already 13 have been killed in Michoacán, and 2,000 evacuated from a small town in Guanajuato. I'd not realized it was so serious. We wish everyone a safe recovery.


Perhaps because of Tiger Woods and John Edwards, there seems to be less attention on another big sex scandal of the day than is warranted. I'm talking, of course, about English national team captain John Terry's relationship with the wife of a former teammate, and the possibility that said relationship destroys the team's chemistry ahead of the World Cup. Terry's now the former captain, but one wonders what will be the lingering impact of the scandal on the English squad, which had been playing really well for a while now under Fabio Capello. I guess all things being equal, this is a better way to go down than a crushing loss in PKs. And it's good news for the US side.

The Economy First?

Macario Schettino pushes back on the idea that the political reform should wait until social and economic legislation is dealt with:
After more than 200 years of studying the causes of economic growth, researches have come to understand that growth occurs when a country manages to build a framework of rules that incentivizes investment in infrastructure and human capital. Which is to say, growth doesn't come from investment for investment's sake, nor from education alone, but is the result of the combination of both, something that happens only when the rules that society has laid out foments it.


Today they tell us we must resolve our economic and social problems, and that politics can wait. The people telling us are the priístas that came to power precisely when López Portillo was destroying the last of the national economy, and today they control the Chamber of Deputies. The people telling us are those who want to delay relevant economic changes, which is to say a serious fiscal reform, so that they can support exactly the policies that destroyed our economy: the development bank, industrial policy, and social policy as a co-opter of votes.

The cynicism of these people seems to be limitless. The tolerance of our economy, but above all our society, is not. Opening our political system lets out some rope, returning to the economy of the past takes it in. And there is no such thing as a rope that doesn't break.
This argument that economic reform must take precedent over political reform, which Luis Carlos Ugalde also referred to earlier this week, is deeply flawed. Marco-economics and politics are to a large degree inseparable. If you have deep problems in one, chances are you have (or will have in short order) deep problems in the other. In such a situation, as Mexico is today, it's hard to address one without considering the other, and it makes no sense to wait for one to improve without simultaneously considering the other.

More on the Barriers to the IFAI

As El Universal reported and Gancho discussed last week, the Calderón administration is looking to secure an endorsement of a Campeche law that will reduce public access to information before the Supreme Court, at which point it will presumably try to apply a similar version of the law nationwide. Not surprisingly, the IFAI is not in favor of such a scenario unfolding. Here's is a portion of the institute's reaction:
It not only removes the speed of the procedure, but also the simplicity, and any individual that doesn't have the technical knowledge of judicial concepts will necessarily require a judicial advisor to unclog the legal process and therefore try to obtain a ruling favorable to their interests.
They also said that access to information will become the province of the elites only.