Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lower Taxes, New Taxes

If the coming revenue bill is to include some new taxes, may it be a tax on cigarettes: seven out of ten Mexicans say they would support a new tax on tobacco, according to a poll conducted by the Senate health subcommittee. Of course, the fact that the same proposal garnered only 39 percent support last year from Mitofsky suggests that the 70 percent might not be quite accurate.

Also, it appears as though one of the planks of the revenue agreement will be a lowering of the IVA to 15 percent.

The Reaction to La Barbie's Capture

Above we have a taste of Mexico's front pages today. Some of the news stories trickling out about the arrest of Édgar Valdez Villarreal include the claim that he tried to talk Arturo Beltrán Leyva into turning himself in shortly before he was killed in a shootout with the navy in December. As a result of his arrest, 11 more people connected to Valdez Villarreal were arrested in Colombia. Also, he couldn't wipe the smile off his face during his presentation to the cameras. Lastly, it's not much of a surprise, but the ranch house where Valdez Villarreal was arrested looks like a heck of a place to hole up.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Big Arrest

Edgar Valdez Villarreal, known as la Barbie, has been arrested in Mexico State by the Federal Police. This marks four major arrests/killings for the Mexican government since December, with Nacho Coronel's death, Teo García arrest, and Arturo Beltrán Leyva's death preceding Villarreal's arrest. (Oddly, despite the much publicized deployment of the army around the country, the army has been heavily involved in only one of these events.) It would also seem likely to spell the end of the Beltrán Leyva organization as a significant force in Mexico's drug trade.

Also, Malcolm Beith offers an illustration that the government's supposed protection of Chapo is greatly exaggerated.

Another Murdered Mayor

The latest victim, Marco Antonio Leal, served in Hidalgo, Tamaulipas, which, like the Monterrey suburb where Edelmiro Cavazos was murdered last week, is located in the northeastern part of the country that has degenerated a great deal this year. According to Excélsior, 13 mayors have been assassinated in the last year and change.

Estimates on Kidnapped Migrants

A handful of Mexican NGOs, using data from the CNDH, say that 20,000 immigrants passing through Mexico are kidnapped each year, which (even if the figure is exaggerated) is why we have protests like the one jarringly photographed above. The CNDH says that three quarters of all migrants who are kidnapped are victimized in Veracruz, Tabasco, and Tamaulipas. These are, not coincidentally, three states with a strong presence of the Zetas. This tendency to expand into extortion and other activities harmful to non-combatants is often associated with the Zetas, who I've read are the organized crime group with the shallowest roots as drug traffickers. They formed as a group of gunmen, so they didn't tease together a smuggling network or forge relationships with Colombian cocaine producers. They could get rich without doing so. When they broke away from their erstwhile sponsors, i.e. those people in Tamaulipas who were drug traffickers first and foremost rather than all-purpose gangsters, the Zetas still had the guns and the will to wreak havoc, but no drug connections and the consequent profit margins. As a result, to keep their wallets fat, they've gotten into much more alarming activities, and have made northern cities where they operate much more violent. This is something to remember and plan for if Mexico (or the US) moves toward legalization at some point.

Cleaning Up the Federales

Mexican authorities announced yesterday the expulsion of more than 3,000 Federal Police officers as part of a revision and cleansing process. The number of officers kicked out since May is 4,685, which represents some 10 percent of the total personnel. Federal Police corruption has been a weightier topic ever since dozens of Juárez-based federales rebelled against four of their commanders, the reason being that the commanders were thought to be corrupt (and drugs and illegal weapons were found in their possession). One might think that this was a positive step in the same direction, but the officers who led the charge against their dirty bosses were evidently among the purged, which makes you suspect retaliation for publicly rocking the boat.

More on Calderón's Reaction to Criticism

Lydia Cacho is not the first person I looked to for security commentary, but I thought she had some interesting things to say in a column last week:
The drug traffickers march took to the streets of Zacatecas. Wives, children, and brothers of criminals walked along the streets demanding their right to "a life in peace". Neighbors noticed armored trucks with false plates, and recognized leading retail dealers, and four fired ex judicial police. And as in a theater of the absurd, the march passed before the people and the authorities. The signs requested the removal of the army. The wife of a famous hit man had a sign that said, "No more dead children, fuera army".


This problem has many ramifications, but here I will deal with one: the incapacity of President Calderón to ally himself with critical and professional civil organizations that for decades have worked in their communities against violence, corruption, and for human rights. These groups, which don't belong to the elites invited to the Dialogues for Security, have for years been making local diagnoses that allow them to understand the complex reality. Their activists are the ones that have created social prevention and education networks. And yes, they have also documented cases of grave violations by the army and authorities, and they are critical of the system; nevertheless, their work is centered on the dignity of people and they are a tool to defuse possible social explosions. Strengthening civil organizations right now could be the most important play for the federal government. They are the ones who know who is marching, governing, and writing for the country and those who defend dark interests. A strategic dialogue that respects differences and creates alliances where they coincide is a tool against narco-cynicism. Calderón needs to understand who are his real enemies.
A couple of points: first off, Calderón's willingness to take the criticisms of his policy to heart isn't an elite versus non-elite dispute. Or, at the very least, it doesn't need to be. Only so many people can have access to the president, which means some of the smaller, more localized groups are going to have a harder time getting heard. If their message is carried by someone else, I don't see that as much of a problem. Second, narco as a modifier could stand to be curtailed a bit. Narco-cynicism is a bridge too far.

Lastly, she's exactly right that Calderón's intransigence toward critics does more harm to the effectiveness of his policy than listening to them would. Both Calderón supporters and his critics are guilty of this sometimes, but the tendency is often to reject everything the other side has to say and dismiss them as entirely incorrect. It's a search for areas of disagreement than for areas of agreement, which is not the most productive approach. Apologies for any resemblance the previous sentences might have to many written by David Broder over the past few decades.

La Liga Kicks Off, Determines Champion

I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I suspect that the two-point gap that opened up between Barça and Real yesterday won't get any closer over the next nine months. More on the opening weekend here from Phil Ball.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


It's interesting how much of the recent media uproar about Monterrey has been that this is the nation's second city, not some border backwater. For instance, here's an editorial from El Universal from a couple of weeks ago:
The second most important city in the country, the central nervous system of our national industry, is at the breaking point, on the border between civility and barbarism. If Monterrey falls, has Ciudad Juárez and Reynosa have, the country will be one step away from doing so as well.


In less than two years, Monterrey went from occasional violence in poor neighborhoods to narco-blockades across the city, grenades thrown at local media outlets, and kidnapping of public officials at the doors of their houses.
One unwritten subtext is that if it can happen in Monterrey, it could happen in Mexico City as well, which is a worry that periodically crops up among the national media. I know Monterrey has had a lot of violent episodes this year, but I'd be interested to see some hard data about how much more violent it really is this year. (Diego Valle?) It could be that just a few spectacular episodes are making the city seem much more out of control than it really is. I also think the degree to which this is recent is a bit exaggerated; I remember having a long talk with someone in Monterrey in 2007 about the explosion of violence.

Update: Diego Valle says in comments that indeed the spike has been both sudden and extreme.


Calderón complained yesterday that the "broken record" of complaints about military abuses were tiring, and said that they were false. I agree that some of the comments about the army are over the top and unbalanced, but how can Calderón say that all the complaints are untrue? They have been documented by HRW, Amnesty International, and numerous media sources. Is Calderón arguing that the dozens of complaints, documented in great detail and with first-person accounts, are all lies?

And more broadly, if Calderón and the military brass are sick of the complaints, making a public show of punishing the offenders is the best way to deal with that, not denying the basis of the denunciations.

Friday, August 27, 2010

LA Times on the Migrant Massacre

Via Boz:
The bullet-riddled bodies of 72 Central and South Americans reportedly slain by drug traffickers in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas shine a light on the dark truth known to undocumented migrants: The illegal trek north through Mexico is treacherous, and those who undertake it put themselves at the mercy of vicious predators. Even before they reach the potentially fatal desert crossing into the United States, thousands of migrants each year face kidnapping, extortion, sexual assault and murder — crimes that often go unreported and unsolved.

An Ecuadorean survivor of the massacre has told officials that the victims were gunned down after refusing to pay or work for the Zetas, the dominant cartel in the region. This would be consistent with reports that drug cartels are diversifying into the lucrative human trafficking business, collecting fees of up to $7,000 a head from relatives in the United States while often forcing migrants to carry drugs with them across the border. But many questions remain unanswered, not the least of which is why the traffickers would kill such valuable prey.

The case is the latest evidence of the well-documented violence against migrants that Mexican officials have been unwilling or unable to confront. Amnesty International has described an "epidemic" of abuses against migrants. In 2009, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission issued a report concluding that 9,758 illegal immigrants had been kidnapped in a six-month period ending in February of that year, including at least 57 children. Among the states with the most cases: Tamaulipas.

Official Candidacy

Gustavo Madero's hat is officially in the ring as a potential successor to César Nava.

Something Good in Hoover Digest

One cool article that appeared in the same pages as the piece picked on in the previous post was about how nations have increased revenue by hiring foreign firms to take control of revenue collection, written by Gancho pal Noel Maurer and Kris Mitchener. The nations mentioned were significantly less developed than today's Mexico, and I don't imagine that a wholesale outsourcing would be feasible, but from what I've heard anecdotally about dealing with hacienda, there's little question that a radical overhaul of the agency's collection practices would do a lot to increase revenue without raising taxes.

More on Colombia as Mexico

The Hoover Digest makes it two US policy journals arguing in recent months that the solution to Mexico's problems is to treat it as we did Colombia. As ever, this a bit silly, or at least narrow. Unlike the Foreign Affairs piece, Hoover article suffers from a lack of specificity and a manipulation of info that makes the whole thing suspect. On the latter score:
Uribe maintains the confidence of a vast majority of Colombians. In 2002 he released the Democratic Security Policy and his administration, with the support of the Colombian military and police force, focused on strengthening democratic institutions. By 2004, they had re-established a government presence in every one of the country’s municipalities. By 2007, Bogotá, Medellín, and Cartagena had murder rates lower than those of Washington, D.C., or Rio de Janeiro. Between 2002 and 2007, Colombia saw a decrease of 37 percent in homicides, 78 percent in kidnappings, 63 percent in terrorist attacks, and 60 percent in attacks on the country’s infrastructure.
Of course, 2007 isn't the most recent year for which we have murder data for Medellín. In 2009, almost 3,000 people were killed in Medellín, which makes it significantly more violent than any city in the United States. I don't want to dismiss Uribe's achievements out of hand, but they did have a cost, which goes unmentioned here, and, more to the point, they weren't all necessarily enduring.

Author Don Chipman also writes:
Why, then, are we not more concerned by the situation south of the border in Mexico, where all of these threats to our national security exist? The answer is that most Americans view the U.S.-Mexican border through the prism of the illegal-immigration issue, neglecting serious issues of drug trafficking, free trade, and national security.
US attention to Mexico neglects drug trafficking as an issue? Wow, he must be reading different media than I. The Post, the WSJ, and the LA Times all have longstanding, titled series about security problems south of the border, with names like Mexico under Siege and Mexico at War. I'd estimate the ratio of security to immigration stories in the major American publications at maybe 5 to 1, if not higher. One frequent complaint from Mexicans is that the US already views its southern neighbor not as a country but as a security problem (though you do also hear the complaint that the US isn't doing enough to address the problem).

Other articles, such as the Foreign Affairs piece, make the same comparison more persuasively, but I've yet to read why Colombia is a better model for Mexico than, for instance, Italy (which did a more comprehensive job eliminating organized crime as a threat to state and reducing violence than did Colombia). Mexico and Colombia both have drug traffickers and both are Spanish-speaking, but Colombia has vast swaths of the country where the government isn't in control, it has a long-simmering civil war, and it has thousands of paramilitaries, among other hugely significant differences with Mexico. And Colombia, while treated as a miracle of success, remains on the whole far more unstable and dangerous than Mexico. No one knowledgeable would seriously argue that the US would be better off sharing a border with Colombia than with Mexico.

There are of course broad remedies which would benefit both Mexico and Colombia: stronger anti-corruption controls, judicial and penal reform, a more honest and professional police force, et cetera. The thing is, these are obvious improvements that would benefit any developing nation. Mexico shouldn't improve its police forces because it worked for Colombia; it should do so because effective police are better than ineffective police, wherever you might be. Turning such a banal observation into a comparison with Colombia makes writing an article easier, but it doesn't really give us any special insight into either nation.

Improving Anti-Money Laundering Efforts, Mexico Edition

Calderón presented a new law under which it will be illegal to buy cars, houses, and other goods with cash, presumably a common practice for members of organized crime. The same law also will increase regulation on frequent laundries, such as casas de cambio and gambling houses. The former will probably help some around the margins if it is enforced; it won't make gangster hide all their cash under their mattress, but will likely force them into using financial institutions, which should make the transactions and dirty money in general more traceable. Of course, whether that translates into significantly more effective controls depends a great deal on whether Mexico will go after banks holding drug money. And history isn't encouraging on this score.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lookalikes, Miss Mexico Edition

That would be Televisa personality Marisol González (Miss Mexico 2003) on the left, who coincidentally is from Torreón and went to school where I taught (though years before my arrival), and Jimena Navarrete, the just-crowned Miss Universe. I guess the rejoinder would be that all beauty queens look the same, but I think this resemblance goes above and beyond. Maybe we need Burro Hall to weigh in.

Mayors Washing Hands

One of the more disturbing and noteworthy pieces of info from my past week of limited blogging was the kidnapping and murder of Edelmiro Cavazos, mayor of a Monterrey suburb, in apparent retaliation for the arrest of some Zetas in his town. While murders of mayors are thankfully rare in Mexico, intimidation of local governments by organized crime groups is far from an isolated phenomenon: according to officials involved with the recent security dialogues, 90 percent of local government efforts to confront organized crime are insufficient.

More on the Massacre

The execution of 72 immigrants in Tamaulipas is being attributed to the Zetas, and reportedly happened over the weekend. The immigrants were accused of being hit men, and then fired upon. The only reason the authorities knew that the event had happened because an Ecuadorian survived the assault, including the shot to the back of the head that each received (a bullet meant to kill him went in the neck and came out his jaw), and ran more than 20 kilometers seeking help before he found it.

El Universal's editorial page, among many others, had a strong reaction to the event in today's paper:
The tyranny of the Zetas in the North and the anarchy in the South [along immigration routes] was well known. The alarming things isn't just the massacre, but the incapacity of the state to anticipate it, not to mention formulate some answer.

For years, the northern border in has demonstrated itself untamable because of the violence and social decomposition, but the southern border, quieter until now, turns out to be as or even more decayed. We would do wrong in forgetting again.

Money-Laundering in the Post

The Washington Post's story on the failure of even redoubled efforts to stop the illicit cash flow from the US to Mexico is a bit depressing, but not too surprising (although I would have guessed that authorities nab more than 1 percent of the drug cash flow). If we can't stop the weapons or drugs from crossing the border, what makes us think we will have better luck with cash, which isn't in and of itself contraband. We might be able to do a better job tracking down big chunks of cash, which would force the narcos to pay more "ants" to bring smaller amounts across the border, not unlike the way weapons are moved. That would likely mean a smaller total sum of cash in the hands of the drug bosses, but it also likely means more total people earning cash from the drug trade, so it's not clear that such would be a positive outcome. In any event, it seems unlikely that we will be able to up our cash confiscation rate to even such a modest number as, say, 20 percent at any time in the near future. Which means that at some point we should conclude that stopping the cash flow, while it would be an enormous help were it possible, is not the best use of our resources.

Chuchos Key to the Budget

Leo Zuckermann runs the numbers on the Chamber of Deputies, which is the only house that has to pass the budget spending bill, and notices something that could be extremely important here in a few weeks: Jesús Ortega's band, should it choose to side with Calderón, could be the difference between a PRI-led opposition passage of the budget over the president's veto, which would be rather embarrassing for the man in Los Pinos. Of course, this presupposes that the PRI won't be willing to negotiate a final solution with Calderón, which may not wind up being the case.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The PRD's Future

Brenda Herrera writes about a group known as the G-5 that is redefining the party's mode of operation in a number of significant and potentially enduring ways. Interestingly, she says that AMLO and Ebrard have little influence over the negotiations, despite the presence of longtime AMLO ally Alejandro Encinas among the five. The other four members of the so called G-5 are René Bejarano, Amalia García, Héctor Bautista, and Jesús Ortega.

Nava's Replacement

Bajo Reserva tells us that it will be Gustavo Madero, presently the party leader in the Senate. Another possibility is former Interior Secretary Francisco Ramírez Acuña.

Lots of Bodies

More evidence of northeastern Mexico's problems: navy personnel have found more than 70 dead bodies in a warehouse on a ranch in Tamaulipas.

Update: Witnesses say that the bodies are of immigrants kidnapped by organized groups, an increasingly common (at least, based on newspaper reports) practice in an increasingly bloody industry.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Preseason Budget Sparring

Calderón is asking for more security cash in next year's budget. The contrast with last year, when the president cut security spending and conspicuously downplayed the importance of security in his agenda, is striking. In what would be another contrast, I hope we can avoid last year's exceedingly protracted budget dispute, which was highly boring and seemed to last longer than the term of the budget itself.

Changing Jobs

César Nava says that he won't seek reelection as the president of the PAN early next year, and will instead focus on his labors in the Chamber of Deputies. I imagine (though perhaps incorrectly) that many will interpret the previous sentence's latter clause as a euphemism for "on his attempt to turn himself into the PAN presidential nominee". In any event, it will be interesting to see how much influence Calderón has on the election of his successor so late into his term.

Update: A more careful examination of the news reveals Nava renounced any intention to run for the nomination. Of course, Senator Obama said that once, too.

Random Notes about Mexican Society, One Surprising, One Not

According to a recent study, Mexico has the eighth-largest population of Facebook users in the world, with 16 million. The fact that Mexico is among the most Facebookero nations is not much of a shocker, as anyone who has much interaction with Mexicans 40 and under can tell you. Still, that Mexico, a developing nation with only about 30 million internet users, would outpace Spain, Australia, and various other more developed nations (not to mention less developed but far larger nations like India) is a testament to Mexicans' enduring sociability.

Also, a new congressional report found that one out of every ten Mexican men is anorexic. Now that I set it to paper (metaphorically speaking), I actually don't believe that (it would be more than a quarter of the non-overweight male population), but I do wonder if there's a hidden male anorexia epidemic racing around the nation.

On the Legalization Debate


Saturday, August 21, 2010

While I'm Out

I thought this was about the most interesting thing I've read about soccer in a long time:
One question that I didn’t address in the piece, but which I keep circling back to in my mind, is whether this means that Pelé is now underrated. As absurd as that probably sounds, I think there’s a case to be made that the kind of star Pelé was, combined with the figure he’s cut in his retirement, have created a situation in which he just isn’t interesting compared to certain other players, with the result that he makes a strangely hollow shell: Infinite acclaim surrounding a career that it’s easy not to care about.
I realize, obviously, that to call Pelé underrated in any context is to make a pretty weird charge against the dictionary—the man is the honorary king of about half the world’s governments and knows the feel of ermine on every continent on Earth. I should probably limit this discussion to smart youngish fans who hang out online, or to bloggers currently sitting at my desk. But in another sense, the ubiquity of the honors he’s accorded is exactly the point. He’s won everything, been driven in slow-moving convertibles through fainting throngs everywhere, and been handed gold trophies atop impromptu ziggurats by everyone, to such a perfect degree that there seems to be nothing else to him. He’s had his moments of tragedy and scandal (the drug-addicted son, the corrupt business partners), but they don’t seem to have disrupted his basic identity, at least as it appears in the culture at large. He’s the player who wins, and smiles, and wins, and smiles, and is untroubled, and dances with confidence, and sits in on board meetings.
After all, even if the “child” narrative retains its appeal after a person grows up, there’s a good chance that it will never feel as immediate or as dramatic as the “adolescent” narrative. You smile at fairy tales, but the songs you loved at 16 are with you for life. And in the aftermath of their playing careers, it’s not just Maradona but also Cruyff, Best, Garrincha, Zidane, and a lot of other great players who seem more complex and compelling than Pelé. If a player’s style is of interest in part as a window into his personality—into a corner of human character—then doesn’t it stand to reason that we’d read an athlete’s later life back into his playing career and promote him or demote him accordingly? That is, if Maradona has revealed himself to be utterly defiant and insane, doesn’t his game start to seem like an insight into a fascinatingly disturbed psyche, and doesn’t it gain in excitement from that? And the same with Cruyff’s edgy brilliance, Best’s decadent sweetness, Zizou’s ambiguous pride, etc.? What does Pelé gain from that sort of reading? Thinking back, I realize that I’ve spent less time watching Pelé clips on YouTube than highlights of countless other players, even players who were nowhere near his level. Is that because there’s something a little dull about the prospect of taking in a style whose practitioner evolved into a minor businessman and institutional figurehead?

Explanation for the Blackout

No internet as I am moving into a new place. I hope to be back up next week.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Conventional Guy

Enrique Peña Nieto's recent declaration --that he opposes the Supreme Court's decision to allow same-sex couples to adopt, but he accepts it-- is not just a minor and politically wise example of trying to have it both ways: i.e., he's with the majority of Mexicans who are uncomfortable about gay couples adopting, but, as with the population at large, it's not the most important thing on the radar screen and he's not dipping into any Guanajuato-like radicalism in his opposition. In addition to all of that, it's yet another little piece of Peña Nieto on the national stage that tells us very little. Most every comment he's made over the past two years that could be used to infer some sense of his views on the issues of the day --insecurity, Mexico's drift toward social liberalism-- has seemed calculated to appeal to the largest segment of society. It may not all actually be entirely calculated, but it makes Peña Nieto come off as too standard issue, too unremarkable. I'd like, in the next two years, to see more from him that suggested an independent, critical thinker.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Twitter Reveals Things We Weren't Expecting. Or, Boxing's Oddest Titleholder

Evidently, welterweight titleholder Andre Berto is a big fan of Julia Roberts' newest effort:
Just got finished watching Eat,Pray,Love and all I can say is WOW!!! Is shows the true purpose of life. MUST SEE!!
This comes after he talks about "his boy" Turtle in Entourage, but before he, in a subsequent tweet, hails a young Iron Mike's brutality.

False Choice

One element of the BGC poll published in Excélsior that I take issue with is the list of choices as far as the best approach to take with regard to organized crime. The biggest problem is that legalization and an aggressive frontal attack do not constitute an either/or proposition. Legalizing marijuana means potentially undercutting a major source of Mexican gangs' income, so in that sense it's not an alternative to an aggressive stance, it would be a major part of one. Similarly, legalization tomorrow doesn't mean that Chapo and the rest will disappear, so legalization alone is not a sufficient short-term approach. Even if it turned out to be a wild success, legalization is a medium- or long-term solution; it won't do anything about Juárez in 2010. Likewise, another of the options mentioned by Excélsior --tolerating the non-violent gangs while attacking the violent ones-- isn't a broad definition of government policy, but would rather be a logical guide to establishing priorities, and not one that is necessarily in conflict with legalization or a Calderonista approach.

This strict categorization of approaches to security represents a broader lack of innovation and creativity to security in Mexico.

Juárez Imitates Art

Shades of Rosario Tijeras: El Universal says that Vicente Carrillo's gang is hiring a group of beautiful young women to work as assassins.

The Candidate No One Has Been Waiting For

Manuel Espino, who may well be kicked out of the PAN later today, announced yesterday that he will seek the presidency with the PAN in 2012. A game-changing wild card this is not; Espino is one of the more unappealing big-time politicians in the country.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Legalization and Security Dialogue Polling

Excélsior published some polls from Ulises Beltrán in today's paper related to last week's security dialogues between Calderón and sundry political heavyweights. Regarding the dialogues themselves, 50 percent said that they saw Calderón as ready to revise his government's security policy, while 46 percent saw changes as unlikely. More significant majorities took him at his word for his reasons for calling the dialogues when he said that the government has committed errors that he wants to change (57 percent), that he recognizes that the government hasn't communicated effectively the nature of the problem (62 percent), and that he is willing to give a fair hearing to the many criticisms of the government's policy (65 percent).

On legalization, 27 percent expressed support for full or partial legalization, with 71 percent opposed. As with Mitofsky, those in favor of legalization has been trending downward in recent years (Beltrán found 30 percent in favor in 2009), although the figure was 15 percent in 2000, which would of course seem to indicate a growing openness to such a policy over the long term.

The paper also found a significant majority opting for frontal attack as the best strategy toward organized crime (61 percent), which is basically in keeping with the recent results for that question. In contrast, 17 percent said legalization is the best policy, 10 percent thought a pact with DTOs should be the approach, and 2 percent said that Mexico should focus only on the violent gangs, while leaving the non-violent gangs alone.

More Problems in Monterrey

The city suffered twenty blockades last night in a further manifestation of one of the more unusual tactics from organized crime. When the blockades first appeared earlier this year, they were described as a way to prevent army convoys from chasing criminals around town with all due speed and freedom of movement. A lot of the more recent blockades (though perhaps not last night's, as it reportedly followed a big shootout) seem to have more to do with sticking a thumb in the government's eye than any operational goal.

Interesting Name

According to Bajo Reserva (which may be overstating it a bit), Marcelo Ebrard has spurned the support of two of the biggest currents in the Mexican left, instead building his own tribe (as they are called in Mexico) in order to serve as his base of support for the 2012 elections.

The name of Ebrard's wing: the Renovator Left in Movement. It has all the elegance of a drunken college kid; it goes down smooth like a glass of turpentine. It's not clear if he chose that name in order to put himself in the best position possible vis-a-vis 2012, or if he's in a little known contest to develop the most unappealing political movement name on the globe. And no, it's not something that sounds a lot better in Spanish.

More here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Today in Journalistic Errors

Milenio's Sunday magazine has an article about the recent opinion versus straight-up journalism debate as it relates to the Washington Post and the future of the industry. Evidently, rigorous fact-checking doesn't figure into Milenio's concept of the future, because they referred to the subject of the article as Mark Weigel, when his name is, in fact, Dave. The article also includes a caption of the Argentine journalist Andrés Repetto that spells his last name as Rettepo.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Beating a Dead Horse

Via Boz, a new Pew report shows what other, older Pew reports have shown: Mexicans, by wide margins, support the use of the army in domestic security operations. Fifty-five percent say that the army is making progress against organized crime, a figure that is down from 66 percent last year, but still 35 points in favor of the optimistic view.

Pew's reports sometimes have some anomalistic findings in Mexico (and they also tend to be more positive than many local pollsters), so you wouldn't want to take this as the final word. However, it is further evidence that for the next president to allow a strong anti-Calderón stance to guide his security policy would be politically risky, and is therefore unlikely.

Friday, August 13, 2010

More on the Lack of Alternatives

I mentioned yesterday how, for all the criticism of Calderón's anti-drug policy, there aren't many alternative visions spilling out from the opposition. This point was made yesterday in a dialogue between Calderón and the nation's governors, most of whom demanded more troops and money, or so Milenio reports. This quote from Nayarit's Ney González, a priísta, is illustrative:
Ney González indicated that "in Nayarit the only thing that is working in combating crime is the support we receive from the navy, the army, and the Secretariat of Public Security", and that in his government "we do our part, but our police, for some strange reason, always arrives 20 minutes after some violent act has occurred".
Efficacy to one side, if a new president came in and loudly announced the removal of half of the federal troops from the states, he would be extremely vulnerable to all manner of political attacks from politicians across the nation. Every violent act could be blamed rather directly on the president's decision, and one would have to naive to think that governors and mayors and local police chiefs would be hesitant about shifting blame toward the prez. The only way such a decision would feasible politically is if it was accompanied by a dramatic reduction in violent crime, which would not be a foregone conclusion. In other words, a dramatic de-escalation of anti-organized crime operations would be a tremendous gamble with a potentially huge downside.

González's quote also demonstrates how the governing ethos in Mexico is much more focused on the central government. He basically pleads impotence with regard to the police that operate in his state, but it's not like his hands are completely tied. He's the governor! Yet, his first point of reference (and that of many of his counterparts from all parties and from around the country) on security in Nayarit is the federal government.


The CNDH has recommended that the army pay an indemnization to the families of the students of the Tec de Monterrey who were killed in a crossfire in March. The Commission's recommendations are not binding, and this would seem likely to be ignored by the army, but we can always hope for the army to change directions and embrace a more apologetic stance toward the civilians harmed by their operations.

Also, at the ongoing security dialogue in Mexico City, outgoing Chihuahua Governor José Reyes proposed a scholarship program for children of those killed in drug-related murders. The source of the money would be seizures of cash and assets from criminal gangs. This may be a financially workable idea, and scholarships for children from vulnerable families are never a bad thing, but it seems exceedingly unlikely that the government will give huge sums of money to a group of kids defined in large part by their parents' links to organized crime. Reyes called that objection simplistic, and it may be, but it will almost certainly sink this proposal nonetheless.

A Scandal without a Real Villain

El Universal had a story on yesterday's front page that the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation is on pace to spend only about half of the $5 billion it was alloted for 2010 investments. The agency's chief, Juan Molinar Horcasitas, blamed the lack of spending on the stimulus package in 2009, saying that much investment planned for 2010 was moved up by a year. That story seems extremely unlikely, given that in 2009 SCT spent a comparably puny slice of its allotment. You hear stories about this sort of thing periodically in Mexico, which makes you wonder what the problem is: is the federal government allocating much more money than the recipients have the capacity to spend, or are there lots of people running cabinet agencies who just don't know how to manage money, or what? In any event, if Mexico has 5 billion to invest on its energy industry and transportation infrastructure, you'd think getting projects up and running with that cash would be a great way to create jobs now and generate better growth down the line.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Odd Suggestion

Carlos Pascual suggested in a recent speech that the Mexican army set up road blocks every five blocks in violent areas near the US border. This is an odd comment for a number of reasons: first, it's a bit more forward in assessing Mexico's needs than you expect from an American ambassador. Second, it's oddly specific for someone who's not a public security professional; this appears to be something he's thought about, rather than just something that occurred to him in the moment that he was loosely sketching out (although it occurs to me that maybe this is something that has been put into place in parts of Tijuana, which he hailed as a model for other border towns). Lastly, it doesn't seem like particularly good advice. It will necessarily impose a not-insignificant cost on law-abiding citizens (Mexican soldiers have always treated me quite well at roadblocks, but I wouldn't much relish having a rifle-toting 18-year-old check me out every five blocks as I drove home), and there's no reason to think that this is the missing link to significantly safer communities.

According to the link above, Pascual also said that USAID has contributed $250 million to the program Todos Somos Juárez. This is also a noteworthy claim, since that would be a tremendous chunk of the program's budget, and I don't remember ever hearing it before.

More Arrests of Kidnappers of Journalists

The Federal Police says it has arrested five more members of the kidnapping gang that abducted four journalists in La Laguna a couple of weeks ago. Unless I'm mistaken, the most recent mass arrest, which came in Lerdo, brings the total of those arrested for the crime to nine. That's probably more a product of good fortune than a concerted effort from the government to punish the perpetrators of this specific crime, but it's a good example of exactly how the government should respond to crimes that specifically target the pillars of a free society: arresting any and everyone involved with the group. That may seem obvious, but it's something that often doesn't happen.

Peña Nieto and the Drug War

Enrique Peña Nieto said that if the PRI returns to Los Pinos in 2012, the war against drugs will not come to an end. Peña Nieto's opinions on issues of national importance are less than fully formed, and this may well be a conscious effort to reassure Mexicans that he won't be a radical change. I also think it demonstrates the fact that broad strategic alternatives to Calderón's approach aren't really on the radar screen for Mexico's political class. The next president will likely make some significant changes to nation's security policy, but it's hard to imagine any leader loudly celebrating a decision to reduce the federal security presence by 50 percent around the nation or slashing security budgets by a third. In other words, it seems as though most politicians don't think that most voters want an end to the aggressive combat of organized crime; they want to see a more competent, less violent version of Calderón's policy.

Whether or not that's really plausible in the near term is another debate altogether.

Another Famous Politician's Nephew Targeted

A 24-year-old nephew of Miguel Espino's was killed in a Juárez parking lot. This follows the murders of two of César Duarte's nephews in recent weeks. Relatedly, Chihuahua authorities announced the capture of a cell responsible for the murder of one of Duarte's nephews, who were said to be working for Chapo Guzmán.

In further Juárez news, the Washington Post had a front-page story about the social-rebuilding efforts in the city in today's paper.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fox vs. Calderón, Round Six Million

In a follow up to his Sunday blog post calling for legalization, Vicente Fox told Carlos Loret de Mola (I think) that Calderón's crime strategy was mistaken and that the heavy reliance on the army was a mistake. Calderón followed that up by saying that the real problem is that Fox did little to fight organized crime during his time in the presidency, and that Calderón's strategy should have been implemented five years ago.

This week also reaffirms Fox's role as the most intrusive retired politician since Santa Ana. I wonder if his outspokenness will become the norm for ex-presidents, or if Calderón will follow a more reserved path.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Another Step Leftward for the Supreme Court

This week's upholding of Mexico City's same-sex marriage law goes just a little bit further to establish the nation's Supreme Court as a bulwark of social liberalism. Assuming the attitude of the Court toward lefty laws continues, what you may well see in Mexico in 30 years is a nation with Guanajuato and DF at Texas-vs-Amsterdam extremes, and with every other state carving out their own space somewhere in between vis à vis gay marriage, abortion, and the like.

The Church, not surprisingly, is less than pleased. More here and here.

Today in Hysteria, from the Texas Governor

Here is part of a speech from Rick Perry, in which he expressed exasperation with the federal government's inability to recognize the gathering storm south of the Rio Grande:
Do we think about looking back to the 1930s in Europe, the South Pacific in late 1941 or even the United States in early September of 2001? There were early warning signs in all of those time frames that were ignored. Too many lives were needlessly lost.
Golly. I'm not sure how to respond to something that is so obviously lacking in common sense and basic judgment. That's like comparing a mildly earnest and innovative middle school student body president to Winston Churchill.

Not in Favor of Legalization

While all the legalization talk from some of Mexico's most prominent politicians in recent days, it almost seemed as though legislation to that effect was imminent. Alas, reality intervened yesterday, with a handful of PAN congressmen coming out against the idea. However, the arguments they used to support their opposition were striking; rather than voicing worries about the children or the nation's values, there were questions about Mexico legalizing before the US, or what kind of reaction it would provoke from criminal groups. In short, they were (from what I read) more practical than moral, which suggests that they would be more open to modification in the future.

More on this issue from Boz.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Just Like He Drew It Up

Nice for Chivas and Mexico fans to see Chicharito net one against Chelsea in the Community Shield (the play in question starts at about 3:00). The coverage of Man U's newest forward has been positively fawning in recent weeks; the Gamecast of the game actually referred to him as a "folk hero".

Incidentally, this goal, which has to be among the ugliest Hernández has ever netted, reflects one of the most worrying aspects of his game: he turns into Lurch on any low cross. If he doesn't get that wrinkle ironed out, the first flubbed cross against Arsenal or Liverpool will probably be the last time we hear the "folk hero" moniker applied to him, at least for a while.

Another President for Legalization

Yesterday, Vicente Fox published on his blog a blunt argument for drug legalization in Mexico, describing it as a way to undercut DTOs' income and operating structure. It could also help future problems in the bud, because the local market in many cities that see rising drug use in the coming generation would would be taken away from the black market. This would make the existence of future Juárez's less likely. How such a move would effect the major organizations like Chapo Guzmán's is a lot harder to predict, and would also depend on how the US reacts.

In any event, this makes three consecutive essentially standard-issue politician, orthodox, centrist or center-right presidents in Mexico who are making noise about legalization. Mexico's elite is turning into one of the hemisphere's most enlightened and open on this issue. Also striking is the fact that the US, whatever other criticisms of its ineffectual drug policy one may feel inclined to make, has been mostly silent on this.

More on the subject from Richard.

Police Agencies

A little more on the plan to do away with the municipal police forces here.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Federal Police Rebellion in Juárez

Milenio is reporting that 300 Federal Police officers stationed in Juárez rebelled against four of their commanders because the lower-level officers suspected them of protecting criminal groups. After demonstrating outside the hotel where the brass was stationed, they forced their way in and found various packages of drugs as well as illegal firearms in the commanders' rooms. Previously, one of the four commanders had allegedly planted drugs on and arranged for the arrest of another agent who had accused them of corruption, which sparked the ten-hour mini-mutiny. The four commanders were removed from their posts and are under investigation.

Update: More on this story here.

The PRD Divide: Deep

Bajo Reserva reports that ahead of the upcoming legislative session, the Chuchos and AMLO's group in the PRD are both shopping different deals with their the PAN and PRI counterparts wherein they would accept lesser positions in the Chamber of Deputies for the PRD as a whole, in exchange for the recall current being sidelined. My memory may be faulty, but I don't remember as much sabotage in the operation sense in AMLO's ascendent phase before the 2006 election. You had the Cárdenas and others conspicuously less than thrilled about AMLO's candidacy, but this open warfare between competing currents of the left and the general lack of unity of purpose that it reflects seems like something that will prevent the left from coming within sniffing distance of the presidency, for as long as it persists.

Bribery Numbers

Genaro García Luna estimates that across the nation, organized crime groups pay police about $1.2 billion a year in bribes, mostly denominated in payments of a few hundred dollars per month. The estimates are based on payout documents discovered by the Federal Police. García Luna went on to say that 60 percent of the nation's police make less than 4,000 pesos (or just over $300) per month, which is of course not an insignificant detail.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Narcobloqueos and the Spread of Tactics

The main highway into Monterrey's airport was blocked by a handful of semi trucks late last night. The trailers, presumably placed on the highway by criminal groups, were removed by authorities after 90 minutes, but red-eye flights were nonetheless postponed until this morning.

It's interesting how two relatively new criminal tactics have remained isolated in their place of origin: blockades in the Northeast (especially Monterrey), and machine-gunning partiers to punish the venue's owners in La Laguna. One of course hopes that neither menace spreads across the nation (especially the latter), but it's alarming to consider that many of the more worrying recent changes to Mexico's criminal landscape --increased use of decapitations, extortion-- were once relatively isolated to certain gangs or regions.

Another Car Bomb

This one was in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, yesterday afternoon. Thankfully, it neither killed nor injured anyone, though there was understandably something of a panic, according to reports.

State Department Warnings

In its annual international terrorism report, the State Department warned of the increased use of terrorist tactics by Mexican criminal groups:
Cartels increasingly used military-style terrorist tactics to attack security forces. There was no evidence of ties between Mexican organized crime syndicates and domestic or international terrorist groups. The violence attributed to organized crime groups on the border, however, continued to strain Mexico’s law enforcement capacities, creating potential vulnerabilities that terrorists seeking access to the United States could exploit.
Usually, with regard to Mexico, I'd say the State Department is slightly more shrill than the situation would merit, but here I think that it's one of the few agencies (indeed, it might be the only one thus far) labeling the situation accurately. Though I think the likelihood of international terrorists exploiting vulnerabilities on the northern border is all but nil.

New Group

Nuevo León has announced the creation of an elite, 200-man security group to protect the state from organized crime. Based on the above link, it amounts to little more than the members of the group being endowed with bigger guns and army training. The article says nothing about stricter anti-corruption protections, which would seem to be much more important to the integrity of an elite agency than firepower or military training.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Problems with the Legalization Debate

Yesterday, El Universal ran a note, which accompanied the story about Calderón's call for debate on drug legalization, on the US's enduring rejection of just such a debate, which has been reaffirmed by federal officials from right and left time and time again over the course of various generations. One thing I haven't seen mentioned is that as far as we can tell, there isn't much appetite for legalization among Mexicans themselves. According to a 2009 Mitofsky poll, 77.7 percent are opposed to the measure, while 18 percent are in favor. Those numbers have also been trending away from legalization in recent Mitofsky polls. For legalization advocates, this makes the debate all the more important: a chunk of that 77.7 percent might swing if it saw a forceful case for the relative harmlessness of marijuana, a proposal that would keep it out of the hands of kids, and a sketch of how it would reduce the power of organized crime. But as things stand now, you can't really talk about legalization in a democratic country where four out of five people are opposed to it.

It's also odd how Mexico is presently the inverse of the US on this issue. In the former nation, you have a conservative leader encouraging a reluctant populace to consider legalization, while in the latter, you have an ostensibly liberal government (not on this issue, however) wanting no part of a legalization debate despite the fact that close to half the country wants pot to be legal.


Three people allegedly involved in the abduction of four journalists in La Laguna last week have been arrested. Assuming these are indeed the guys responsible for the crime, great news. Nothing would do more to discourage gangsters from kidnapping journalists than the rapid arrest and subsequent conviction of those who do so.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Another Big Bust in Manzanillo

Two hundred pounds of precursor chemicals to be used to manufacture meth were confiscated today in Manzanillo. The chemicals were said to belong to Nacho Coronel. Today's was at least the third huge meth-precursor seizure in Manzanillo this year, and by far the largest.

Everyone a Target for Extortion

A Church spokesman said that different parishes across the country have been subject to extortion by organized crime, and that "every bishop has his record" of payments made and the like. This isn't the first time we've heard of priests being extorted, and it's indicative of a larger move by Mexican criminal gangs toward extortion in the past five years.

For regular Mexicans, this broad swing toward extortion is one of the most pernicious developments of the Calderón era. It's bad enough for big companies and wealthy individuals to have to devote a greater share of their income on personal security because of kidnapping fears, but in many regions extortion is a de facto tax on success (and one that is imposed as regularly and with more authority than the legitimate government taxes), as well as an inhibitor of entrepreneurship. And it's not just big money-cow businesses that suffer, but also for small, family-owned tortillerías and the like.

Positive Economic Info

The Finance Secretariat reported this week that in the second quarter, Mexico's economy grew by 7 percent. While that number is good, the job creation figures remain a bit worrying. In the same lapse, Mexico created 223,000 jobs, and Finance estimates that it will create 600,000 in 2010. This means that not only will the first year of the recovery fail to make up for the lost ground during the crisis, but also that even in a bounce-back year the nation fails to generate anywhere near the 1 million jobs a year it needs to feed the labor market.

Legalization Debate Heats Up

With varying degrees of emphasis, the dailies today are focusing on yesterday's call to debate the legalization of drugs from Felipe Calderón. His speech was tamer than what you'd hope for from a legalization advocate, but from a politician, and a conservative one at that, this marks a significant step in the right direction.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lots of Killings

In a presentation attended by Felipe Calderón, Cisen pegged the number of organized crime-related killings under Calderón at 28,000, which is slightly higher than the 24,000 mentioned by Arturo Chávez Chávez a few weeks ago. The 24,000 was itself the product of a significant upward revision a few months ago. The agency also reported that there have been just under 1,000 confrontations between criminal groups and government forces across the nation in the Calderón sexenio.

The absence of a standard definition of organized crime remains a bit of an issue for these calculations. Much of these murders were basically street gangs fighting over turf rather than multi-national gangs with the power to threaten the state, a distinction that organized crime obfuscates. That's not to lessen the significance of the 28,000; indeed, it is in some ways more worrying, because reducing the drivers of violence isn't merely a matter of taking down two or five gangs, but rather hundreds, as well as addressing the broader social climate that gives rise to them.

Electoral Shenanigans

A couple of weeks ago, David Agren passed along the rumor that Enrique Peña Nieto was considering changing the date of the upcoming Mexico State election from 2011 to 2012, so as to avoid the possibility that a PAN-PRD alliance would win and in so doing deliver a severe blow to Peña Nieto's presidential ambitions. At the time, it struck me as all-but-impossible: too transparent the gambit, too cowardly the motivation, too cumbersome the process. I still basically feel the same way, but the rumor nonetheless seems to be gaining strength, with Carlos Navarette recently warning Mexicans about Peña Nieto's devious plans.

Back Open

The spanking new US consulate in Juárez, which is where the US handles non-tourist visas applications, is back open today, after closing last Friday thanks to threats of a car bomb attack. The consulate has little in the way of barriers between the street and the front door, which is to say it would seem quite vulnerable to attack. Plus, that space, which is roughly fifty by fifty yards, is always teeming with scores of people, so any competent car-bomb attack would be devastating.

More on Nacho Coronel

Jorge Fernández Menéndez on the death of Nacho Coronel:
The Secretary of National Defense has decided not to make public the operational procedures that allowed them to get to Coronel, but it has emphasized, first, that for a while they had been carrying out a rigorous intelligence tracking of the capo; also, that his localization and the capture attempt (Coronel died while trying to escape from one of them two houses in Zapopan that he used as his base of operations) was the exclusive work of military intelligence: no other federal force, not to mention the states, participated in the operation and nor was there, in this case, no type of collaboration with some type of external, international intelligence.

Unlike other capos, Nacho Coronel didn't utilized strong security units to ensure his safety. He use to be, as he was when the confrontation that ended his life took place, with just one bodyguard and preferred to operate with a low profile, until yesterday at 1:30 p.m., when the military forces prepared his detention: with his death the Sinaloa cartel suffered the strongest blow of the sexenio.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Torreón as Mexican Shorthand for F'ed Up City

After the execution-like slaying of four people in a Coyoacán pizzeria, a Mexico City police chief dismissed suggestions that his city had a series problem with organized crime with the accurate though painful (at least, for me) insight that the nation's capital isn't Torreón.

More on the Laguna: yesterday's Milenio front page, celebrating the rescue of the journalists kidnapped in the Laguna, was the rare illustration of a happy moment in the city's battles with insecurity:

But today things got back to normal, with a jailhouse spree that left four people dead in Gómez Palacio.

Issues that Shouldn't Be Seen as Tests of Strength

If this post aspired to being a comprehensive list, it would be long indeed. In the interest of space, I'll stick to one indisputable example: comprehensive immigration reform, which has thousands of moving parts, scores of interest groups approaching the issue from very different points of view, and necessarily entails a number of painful and imperfect compromises. Nonetheless, Sarah Palin says that the only think preventing a solution is the lack of a president with "cojones".

Post Mortem

Sam Kelly has the details on Diego Maradona's removal from the Argentine national team. One hopes that rumors of his being offered the Mexico job are just rumors; hiring the disappointing outgoing coach of a more prestigious national team promises to be a rerun of the Eriksson era. Although Maradona has the advantage of speaking Spanish fluently and without a foreign accent, which a recent study suggests was one of Eriksson's most insuperable obstacles.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Good News from Torreón, More Federal Government Targeting of Sinaloa

Three of the four journalists kidnapped in Torreón last week were rescued by the Federal Police. (The other had already been released.) In the press conference following the rescue, Genaro García Luna blamed the kidnappings on Chapo Guzmán, which seems a more verbal shot across the capo's bow than is typical from the federal government. This follows not only the death of Nacho Coronel, but the army's subsequent killing of his nephew and would-be successor. This all may be coincidence, but it does seem as there is a more aggressive push to get tough on Sinaloa figures in the past week. Now I just need to see a quote from Edgardo Buscaglia explaining why it's all a sham.