Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Newest Market for Organized Crime

Excélsior reports that criminal gangs are making hay selling stolen American yachts in the Yucatán, where they are sold for roughly one quarter or one half of their regular retail price. According to the report, some 300 yachts were stolen from American docks in August alone, although the fact that there's no credible estimate of how many stolen yachts have been sold in Mexico kind of reduces the story's impact.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Somewhat More Serious Example of the Lack of Professionalism in Mexico's Educational System

An NGO called Mexicanos Primero issued a report saying that there are 17,000 public school teachers, all of them drawing paychecks paid by taxpayers, who are not actually teaching, but are actually assigned to administrative posts inside the teacher's union, the SNTE. Some of these teachers are actually collecting checks for up to four different posts, say the authors. This kind of thing, while alarming, is not unusual in Mexico. However, what is slightly more worrying is that the SEP reported to Congress that the number of such teachers was just over 10,000. In fact, it seems to be 70 percent higher, so either the SEP is lying, or no one has a good sense of who is where, nor, consequently, how much the confusion is costing the Mexican state.

A Minor Example of the Lack of Professionalism in Mexico's Educational System

The Secretariat of Public Education announced yesterday that there will be a four-day weekend for the Day of the Dead, which is Tuesday. Needless to say, parents, teachers, and anyone else invested in educational quality would prefer to have a little more of a heads-up than zero school days. You had a long review today for a test to be taken on Monday? Sorry, Teach, you're outta luck.

When I was teaching in Mexico, this kind of thing would happen at least three or four times a year. I once was advised with about 12 hours of notice that I had to go to a day-long seminar on the day that my students were taking a semestral exam. The seminar would invariably involve listening to meaningless platitudes from a self-important veteran of the SNTE, or someone younger leading workshops and just kind of moving things along, in case that the resident veteran decided to stop by. It would just make you want to shake the people responsible.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Never a Dull Moment

A pair of women dressed only in their underwear burst into the Mexico City legislative session yesterday, demanding "housing" (Milenio's characterization) and the resignation of the delegation chief in Gustavo A. Madero. Subsequent reports have indicated that Víctor Hugo Lobo Román remains in office, despite the demands.

Out of the Textbooks and into Real Life: Deadweight Loss

I've enjoyed Matt Yglesias' reincarnation as a microeconomics professor:
What about the case of unauthorized downloading of music files. Consider Katy Perry’s “California Gurls”. This tune costs $1.29 on iTunes. At that price, some people will buy it. Others will refuse. You might refuse because you hate Katy Perry and hate the idea of owning one of her songs. But say you’re not a hater. You’re just a skeptic and a cheapskate. You’d gladly pay a dime for the song were that an option, and since the marginal cost of distribution is basically zero it would be profitable to sell you the song for a dime. But it’s not an option, since the overal profit-maximizing price is $1.29. And say there are a million people like you out there. That adds up to $100,000 in deadweight loss—the value of the transactions blocked by copyright protection.
I think he gets this wrong, though. While price should always equal marginal cost in a competitive industry, I'm not sure iTunes would be able to stay in business if it was charging only 10 cents per song, because presumably the fixed costs would be too great. Therefore, when it comes to digital music vendors, we might have to choose between paying far more than the marginal cost per song or vendors not staying in the market.

Anger on the Left

In a column about how a constant stream of bitterness undermines AMLO's political prospects, René Avilés closes with the following paragraph:
Without a doubt AMLO will run, and although Ebrard has won some support among the party leadership, it's impossible to hide the support the activists have for Obrador. At some point the work he has methodically put in every municipality will manifest itself. Then there will be another modification: the PRD will cede political space and it will be take by the PT, that strange creature of the Salinas de Gortari brothers. We will then have a new left further left and more violent than the old one. Above all because it will be the "armed" wing for López Obrador. Despite these underhanded maneuvers, it will be defeated in the coming presidential cycle.
I foresee something pretty similar. The only question mark for this election is if Ebrard can actually catch up to AMLO in the polls and build a claim to being the candidate, but even if he does, AMLO is still going to run. The long-term question is if and when if Ortega and the like can definitively marginalize AMLO and his ilk.

Unfortunately, Avilés also compares the former DF mayor to Adolfo López Mateos, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (about here he lost me), and Hitler. That is an authoritarian too far for me, as Nazis tend to be with any comparison not involving a genocidal regime. But the point about the political anger of the Mexican left is still a good one, despite the ridiculous analogy. This week's prime example came from Gerardo Fernández Noroña (H/T), whose diatribes are reliably insane, when he accused Calderón of being a drunk and a murderer. It's hard to win over the 300,000 votes AMLO was lacking in 2006, much less the support of the several million necessary to build a durable coalition, if major figures from the Mexican left are tossing around that kind of nonsense.

Warden Arrested

The director of the Puente Grande prison in Jalisco, one of the common destinations for the nation's most dangerous criminals, has been arrested by Interpol in Mexico City for suspected links to organized crime. Stories like this are painfully common (here's another one from last week), and a reminder that while revamping prisons won't win a whole lot of plaudits for lawmakers (compared to, say, a strict new kidnapping law), it's a fairly pressing need.

Support for Calderón's Crime Policy

Nothing particularly shocking comes out of this new poll from Milenio, which says that around 70 percent are either completely or somewhat against various forms of legalization (i.e. in Mexico, California, or the US), with the majority of that number choosing "completely" as their modifier. Seventy percent also favor the anti-crime policy as Calderón is presently conducting it, which is roughly in line with what we've seen from other surveys, and another reminder that calling off the dogs will be a tricky proposition should the next president be of a mind to do so. Interestingly, close to 60 percent agreed with Calderón's recent assertion that Fox was slow in reacting the surge in drug trafficking as a danger to the nation.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Gig

I'm doing some writing at, and you can read my first effort for them here.

Tobacco Companies: International Villains

In the wake of the tobacco companies' harsh opposition to a 7-peso tax on each box of cigarettes, it was interesting to see a report from Cide on Big Tobacco's influence in Mexican politics score front-page attention from El Universal earlier this week.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Another Mass Killing

Either 15 or 16 car-washers were gunned down in Tepic, a semi-coastal city that has been relatively free of organized crime. It makes you wonder if this episode could be the realization of the threatened retaliation --one death for each ton, plus one more-- for the seizure of 134 tons of marijuana last week in Tijuana.

Addicted Cons

According to Milenio, an undersecretary of health said that 80 percent of Mexico's prisoners are addicted to one drug or another. Quite a number, but I'm not sure about that stat; 80 percent of the convict population is addicted, in a country where drug use is not particularly prevalent? Not likely. However, the idea that addicted criminals should be treated in a public health context rather than sent to prison is certainly something worth considering.

Not sure how directly this comment reflects the views of José Ángel Córdova (though the comment was made in his home state of Guanajuato, where he's been rumored as a possible gubernatorial candidate), but I second Aguachile's comments here.

Corrupt Mexico Growing More So

Mexico sits at number 98 in the most recent Transparency International corruption rankings, with a rating of 3.1 out of 10, even with Egypt and Burkina Faso. That reflects a drop from 3.3 last year and 3.6 two years ago. The 98 ranking is also a nine-spot drop from last year. Chile remains the top scorer from Latin America, clocking in at 21 this year.

More Goals

Another nice one from Chicharito in the 90th minute to win it for Man U in the Carling Cup, starting at about 5:10. Another sign of his emerging stardom: he's dating an actress.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On the Radio

Talkin' Mexico with Silvio Canto.

Allegations from a Kidnapped Brother

A new video making the rounds in Chihuahua features the kidnapped brother of the former state attorney general, Patricia González, accusing her of working for La Línea and Vicente Carrillo.

I have no idea whether or González is 100 percent clean or as dirty as the Miami Hurricanes in the late 1980s, but, in general, we should resist accepting the claims of videos of forced confessions from kidnapped and often tortured people, for whom a false confession could be held out as a way to save their own or their family's lives. The videotaped confession has been employed in La Laguna a couple of times, and the conclusions were often dubious. More to the point, such videos are far too easy to manipulate to take too seriously. A bloodthirsty criminal gang could incriminate whomever they wanted. They could kidnap Federal Police officer and force him to swear up and down that García Luna is Pablo Escobar's illegitimate son and that he and Chapo are friends going way back, or some other nonsense, but that wouldn't make it true.

Of course, it's hard to ignore the allegations once they are in the ether, so I'm not sure what exactly I'm calling for other than for people to be skeptical of such videos. The authorities in Chihuahua are investigating the veracity of the González video, which seems appropriate.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another "No" to Alliances in 2012

This one comes from Marcelo Ebrard, in the context of a defense of the State of Mexico alliance.

What Will Manlio Do?

Ezra Shabot mused on Manlio Fabio Beltrones' future in last week's column:
Inside the PRI the national leadership with Beatriz Paredes and the majority of the deputies, and even part fo the weakened but still functioning corporatist apparatus, is lining up with Peña Nieto, while Beltrones is betting on the senators and many governors not ready to renounce their future aspirations and who see Manlio as an effective glue. It's a competition that until now can't express itself as such, because the circumstances don't allow the true cards to be laid and the campaigns to begin. While that continues, the president of the Senate will continue weaving relationships in all the realms of political power with the intention of using them when it is necessary.

From now until December, the invisible Beltrones-Peña dispute will be in suspense until we know whether there will be an agreement between the PAN and the PRD in the state of Mexico. If the Mexico state opposition finds a common candidate, this will oblige the priísta machinery to fall back on all the external help possible to stop the avalanche that an alliance of this nature would provoke. The only form for the eventual PRI candidate for governor to receive this help is a comprehensive negotiation that includes the PRI candidacy to the presidency.

The big question here, What will Manlio do in a moment such as this where his candidate runs the risk of losing many of his chips in the big race, and he also risks his position in the party ahead of 2012? It will be the decision of a calculating politician that knows when to take risks and when to negotiate positions. All of this depends on what Beltrones wants to do in 2012 and thereafter, and only he knows that, at least we assume he does.
Long story short: Beltrones and Peña Nieto have unfinished business, and we have little clue as to how it will play out, but we know 2012 hangs in the balance. Though we knew that already.

New Labor Proposal

The PRI is introducing what is being described as a quite sweeping labor law in the Chamber of Deputies. It includes a handful of new worker protections, such as mandatory benefits, minimum salary increases indexed to inflation, and prohibitions of hiring discrimination. Unfortunately, while these are all positive additions, there doesn't seem to be anything likely to increase hiring in the formal sector.

And Now the Bad News...

Thirteen residents at a Tijuana rehab facility were executed yesterday, in apparent retaliation for the seizure of 134 tons of marijuana last week. Evidently, on police radios after the killings there were threats to kill up to 135 people in response. This is not the first time rehab center residents have been targeted (often, rehab centers are said to double as gangs' centers of operation), but I believe it is the first time they have been in Tijuana.

Before We Get to the Bad News...

A doblete from Chicharito gave Man U a road win yesterday. The first header was ridiculous. I was also happy to see him miss a low cross in the highlight as well, just to remind us he's not straying too far from his roots. Incidentally, I've noticed that the English media refers to him with some frequency as "the little Mexican". It's a bit odd; he's skinny as a rail, no doubt, but he's 5-foot-9, which is not particularly shrimpish by soccer standards. He's also within an inch of the tallest Mexican in the Premier League (Vela, according to my quick check).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

New Massacre

César Duarte has his first huge challenge as governor of Chihuahua (other than the mere act of assuming the post) with the massacre of 13 youngsters at a pair of house parties in Juárez. In launching a state security operation to detain the perpetrators, he's marking a somewhat different path from many governors whose knee jerk reaction to such an event is complain about lack of federal support.

Here's the El Universal account of the event:
The night was carrying on normally, dozens of adolescents congregating in houses numbered 2063 and 2069 on the streets Arquitectos and Félix Candela to celebrate a birthday.

The party was interrupted suddenly by a man of roughly 20 years who made his way to the center of the people, and shouted who was the owner of a car that was parked outside.

Evidently, no one answered him, and he asked again. After not hearing an answer, he lost patience. From his clothes he pulled out a gun and began firing indiscriminately.
It's a little unclear what the exact sequence of events was, but the article refers to two mass killings and multiple gunmen ("brats between 16 and 21 years old", according to witnesses), so I imagine the above account was just the initial episode, followed by further shootings by more people at the other house. No word on whether or not the victims had anything to do with organized crime, but I expect that after Calderón's faux pas following the January massacre, no one will be tossing that accusation around unless they are certain this time. In any event, the article leaves the impression that they were not.

Who knows what the real reason was (mistaken identity, revenge, personal feud, some combination of the three, et cetera), but there doesn't seem to be much of a business motive to this killing. Stories like this, though unusual, support the idea that the violence in Juárez goes well beyond Chapo versus Carrillo.

More on Michoacán

Milenio's Sunday magazine had a longer look at the failure of the michoacanazo a couple of weeks ago. Víctor Ronquillo, who has a lot of experience writing about crime in Mexico, says that the basis of the arrests was three protected witnesses:
In the testimony given, which today is just barely becoming publicly known, anecdotes swirl. Paco alleged that Citlali Fernández, today liberated for lack of proof as have been the majority of the accused, was the "liaison" between the mafia La Familia and Michoacán's political elite. Emilio remembered the presence of the state's ex-secretary of public security and the ex-advisor to governor Leonel Godoy in a party celebrated among narcos, and declared that the official, key to the strategies and labors of public security in the state before her capture in May 2009, was the "romantic partner" of another of the leaders of the criminal organization La Familia, Dionisio Loya Plancarte, alias El Tío.

Soon the declarations of the protected witnesses were brought down. The backbone of the investigation carried out to send the implicated officials to prison turned out to be a house of cards and the latest five were released in last September 28. Efraín Cázares, chief judge of the First District Court of Michoacán, declared: "This court determined [that the five released officials] are not criminally guilty of acts of organized crime and crimes of drug trafficking in the sense of collaborating to facilitate the commission of these crimes".
Ronquillo also tells us that the number of protected witnesses employed by the PGR has jumped from 99 in 2002 to more than 400 today. They make anywhere from $2,000-$4,000 a month for their services, which is a significant paycheck in Mexico (for comparison's sake, a mid-level engineer with, say, five years of experience at a factory would probably make $1,000-$2,000). The piece comes across as anti-protected witness, in much the same way as Snitch did: they are unreliable shysters who exist only to manipulate the government. I'm not quite convinced by that argument. Relying too heavily protected witnesses leads to embarrassments or miscarriages of justice or both, but they also help make cases and put high-ranking criminals in prison. The key distinction, one that depends very much on the judgment of law enforcement, is between use and abuse. But to be honest, 411 protected witnesses in a nation where between 500,000 and 1 million people work in the drug trade seems like a paltry sum.

Another interesting element: Calderón has referred somewhat evasively to recordings being played before the judges supporting the witnesses' claims. Perhaps tellingly, he said, "It is my understanding...", not, "The judges heard tapes that showed..." But whether or not there was additional evidence beyond the witnesses does seem to be a significant piece of the puzzle, and Ronquillo doesn't dig into it at all.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

In 2012, No More Alliances

Gustavo Madero, campaigning to be César Nava's replacement, says that there will be no PAN-PRD alliances in 2012.

That makes sense. I've heard people talk about an alliance for the presidency in 2012, and I'd say that misreads the situation. Even at their most cynical, these were tactical, short-term agreements meant to stem the PRI tide, not a merger. (And in Puebla and Oaxaca, they could plausibly be seen as a common front against authoritarianism.) The PAN and the PRD both recognize that it is in their mutual best interest to slow the PRI's momentum well in advance of 2012. The ultimate goal of the alliance for both members isn't a PRI loss in 2012 by any means necessary, but rather a potential win for the respective party, a precondition for which is weakening of the PRI, at least in their view. The final piece of the alliance puzzle is the state of Mexico, not the presidency.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Peña Nieto's Successor?

One of the obvious difficulties ahead of the PAN-PRD alliance in the State of Mexico is settling on a candidate acceptable to both parties. In most states where they've had an alliance, one party is clearly dominant, and the ideological leanings of the alliance candidate trend in that direction. But in Mexico you have quite a bit of support for both the PRD and the PAN, so there's no easy solution. What to do? Evidently, you offer it to a likable pop star/actress with no political history whatsoever. At least, that's about all the sense I can make of the rumor that Lucero has been offered the candidacy. Either that, or her people are exaggerating an offhand conversation. Or maybe La Novia de América has always been policy wonk trapped in an entertainer's body.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Car-Bomber Arrest

The suspected author of the car-bombing in Juárez last July has been caught, along with 14 other members of La Línea, a street gang that does the dirty work for Vicente Carrillo. The government also says that La Línea is basically dismantled, though I don't think that means that Vicente has given up the city. Assuming it's true, that's good as far as it goes, but Juárez remains quite violent, and I suspect that those living there don't really care whether the dead bodies are a product of La Línea or some other group that replaces it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Mayors Oppose

On the one hand, it makes perfect sense to see Mexican mayors opposed to the unified police proposal. After all, it represents an assault on the scope of their authority and autonomy, and no executive likes that.

At the same time, it's noteworthy because the mayors don't have a whole lot of power or prestige. With no reelection, there are no Daleys in this bunch, and the mayoralty is almost always little more than a launching pad to bigger things. And yet they are opposing the presidency (though since most of the mayors are priístas, that's not a huge deal) and the nation's governors (who are mostly from the PRI). Furthermore, by the time the reform is actually implemented, most of the mayors won't even be in office, so it'll be someone else's problem, an assault on their successor's autonomy. One can only assume that many of the mayors probably have fantasies of being in their state's governor's mansion within a few years, in which case their opposition could actually reduce their power, should it prove successful.

Toward a Truce?

From Aguachile:
Manuel "El Meme" Garza is no insignificant name within the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). The former mayor of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, has been secretary general several times of the PRI, the party in which he has spent more than half a century. He has remained an important operador político, a political fixer, until the present. It therefore is quite notable that Garza recently called for called for a truce, of sorts, with the drug lords, though he adds "in order to catch breath, and later give them a final kick." This disclaimer notwithstanding, it is still noteworthy that a PRI bigshot calls for negotiations with the drug gang. The bigger question, of course, is: How representative is he of the party in general?
I remain close to convinced --let's say rather confident-- that a truce like the one said to have held during the Salinas era is not on its way back, for a variety of reasons (the political risk entailed, the position of the army and the US, the fact that it wouldn't necessarily lead to less violence, et cetera). But I could certainly be wrong. If enough the PRI is behind such a plan and the party wins in 2012, all my logic won't really matter a whole lot. It's perhaps notable that Garza is of the old guard, whereas younger priístas have been more outspoken in their rejection of the pact; one suspects that there could be a division between those who see a return to the 80s as an ideal, and those who want to carve out a sustainable policy for the future.

Economic Projections Are Always Wrong

This is what I wrote in November of last year:
The OECD says that because of a weak recovery in 2010 (2.7 percent growth) and 2011 (3.9 percent), Mexico's economy won't return to 2008 levels until 2012. Unemployment will skip up to 6.5 percent next year as well. And that assuming that the US economy doesn't slip back into recession, as Obama was warning against yesterday.
Given that expectation, it was nice to see Calderón announce (at an OECD ceremony, no less) that Mexico has generated 780,000 new jobs this year, and the previous high point for jobs in Mexico has been surpassed by about 185,000, according to IMSS data. Even allowing for some monkeying with the data (not that I'm accusing, but I've heard the complaint about jobs before), that's an impressive turnaround.

I'm not sure there is any structural reason for the poor forecast (i.e. something having to do with systematic mis-weighting of certain factors), but it certainly is fitting for everyone to have underestimated the impact of the crisis on Mexico heading in, and to overstate its lingering impact during the recovery.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Not So Scary

The Washington Post had a nice report on the takedown of a new gang in San Diego with links to the Arellano Félix clan in Tijuana. In its reaction to the story, the Mexican media has been oddly fixated on the revelation that the US taps into phone calls of suspected traffickers, something that I believe was documented in great detail in Killing Pablo, and a practice that also pops up in drug war literature with some frequency. The piece also includes some evidence of corruption by Mexico's Federal Police (someone in the agency tipped off a would-be arrestee about his coming capture; he fled, and hasn't been caught) and the Mexican government more generally, though nothing earth-shattering.

Unfortunately, the good reporting is overshadowed by the slightly alarmist stone captured in the headline: "Threat grows as Mexican cartels move to beef up U.S. presence".

Before you start worrying about a wave of decapitated heads on your front lawns*, it should be noted that, headline notwithstanding, in no way does the article demonstrate a growing threat. What it does demonstrate quite nicely is the existence of something that will surprise no one with a basic understanding of how international drug supply chains work: US gangs, which have for generations sold illegal drugs, have to work with foreign suppliers, since much of the drugs sold in the US is manufactured elsewhere. This passage is indicative:
Unlike the cartel crews in Mexico, which are typically built on strong ties between families or friends, the San Diego franchise recruited from U.S.-based Latino street gangs. Some were illegal immigrants, others U.S. citizens, according to arrest warrants. Twelve of the 43 indicted have alleged gang affiliations in San Diego. Six of the 43 are current or former Mexican law enforcement officers. Eight are women.
The bolded part shows how unremarkable this is. Foreign traffickers always team up with local street gangs, both in The Wire and in real life. None of this should surprise or frighten us, at least not any more than it usually does. The stuff that could scare us --such as Mexican gangs intimidating or attacking American cops on American soil, or a FBI office chief being on a gang's payroll, or any concrete sign that this gang is fundamentally different that those that have come before-- is absent.

*As always, Burro Hall also serves as a good antidote for this concern.

Chapo's Weed

Alejandro Poiré says that the 105 tons of marijuana that were seized in Tijuana yesterday belonged to Chapo Guzmán and Mayo Zambada. Given that the Golden Triangle region from which Chapo hails is a huge producer of weed, and that Tijuana is said to be controlled by his people, that seems like a logical conclusion.

Update: Turns out it was 134 tons.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Something Good Out of Los Pinos?

Calderón, after a lengthy meeting with Senate leaders, promised a bill to alter the military exemption from civilian trials. It's a bit hard to comment on this without knowing the details of the bill, but assuming it exposes military abusers to civilian trials and decreases the impunity, good on the president. Fixing this --both the fuero in particular and the abuses by Mexican security forces in general-- doesn't amount to a comprehensive solution to Mexico's security problems, but it is an unqualified improvement, does remove a potentially significant barrier to long-term public support for confronting organized crime. As such, it's always struck me as shortsighted that Calderón's allies and people in favor of an aggressive crime policy haven't been more ahead of the curve on this issue.

The Scot-Free Bunch

Against the backdrop of the Julio César Godoy case, Leo Zuckermann notices that Mexican politicians very rarely face jail time for their links with drug traffickers:
[I]n Mexico, there must be politicians that protect members of organized crime. Despite that, on this task the state has failed. We haven't seen in Mexico, as happened in Colombia, the discovery, processing, and jailing of heavyweight politicians linked to organized crime. That task, then, remains. And if what happened in the embarrassing case of Godoy Toscano is a show of how difficult it is to catch a politician allegedly corrupted by drug-traffic, we shouldn't hope for much either.
This point also screams for a proper accounting of what went wrong with the michoacanazo. But it also should be pointed out that Godoy isn't really a big-time politician. What about the governors? Senators? Party leaders?

A Random Anniversary That Has Absolutely Nothing To Do with Mexico's Growing Obesity Epidemic

McDonald's has now been in Mexico for 25 years. If you're going to celebrate with a Bic Mac or three, make sure to block off time for 30 minutes of cumbia later.

Voice of Reason

Ebrard scolded AMLO yesterday, saying that everything that divides the left in the State of Mexico (in this case, an alliance with the PAN that AMLO wants no part of) brings Peña Nieto closer to victory, both in next summer's election, and by extension, in 2012.

Chapo as Destabilizing Expansionist

According to the Mexican government, 84 percent of the drug-related murders under Calderón have been the result of Chapo Guzmán's group pushing out into new territories and coming into conflict with the groups previously in control of the area. I don't know how reliable these numbers are, but I think it's fantasy to be able to attribute anything close to 100 percent of the murders linked to organized crime to Chapo, Carrillo, and the like playing Stratego with their respective organizations across the nation. A lot of the violence filling the newspapers is low-level, intra-city turf warfare that may have a loose connection to one capo or another, but isn't directly related to anyone's attempts to move into one city or another. In other words, I guess you could attribute every single death in Juarez to Chapo's incursion, but much of the violence there is small-timers taking advantage of the climate of insecurity.

I do, however, think it's interesting that the feds are willing to finger Chapo as the villain, given all the accusations that they are protecting him.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Missing Element

One of the things I've come to realize is much more developed in the US than in Mexico is the opinion journalism industry, especially in the form of ideological magazines like The New Republic and The National Review, among others. In Mexico, there are magazines that produce stories that could be published in American opinion mags (Nexos, Este País, Gatopardo, and especially Letras Libres, which has had a fair amount of stuff reprinted in English in The New Republic), but they are typically somewhat isolated from the ideological and policy goals driving Mexico's political parties in any given moment.

This tendency probably improves the general level of journalistic objectivity in said magazines, but it also has a negative consequence. American opinion magazines, while contentious and prone to partisan hackery, allow their regular reader to empathize with, relate to, and root for a specific party. While I wish more people didn't agree with The National Review, more people using affirmative selections to determine their political preferences rather than choosing the lesser of two evils is unquestionably a boon to democracy.

In Mexico the default mindset, especially among the educated set would read La República Nueva if it existed, is one of cynicism toward political leaders. There is of course a great deal of political cynicism in the US, but magazines like those mentioned above help to balance and channel the cynicism; for most readers of TNR, you're pessimistic during the Bush years but optimistic during the Obama years. I don't mean to say that the cyclical partisan warfare in the US is a good thing, per se, but I do think it's better than the politically nihilistic viewpoint you see so much in Mexico: everybody is unredeemable.

Loyally Following the President's Advice

Worried that obesity is now a "matter of life or death" in Mexico, Calderón advised all his constituents to spend a half-hour dancing cumbia every day. I can't say I think this going to have a huge impact on Mexico's waistlines, but I second the president's suggestion nonetheless.

Chinese Links with Mexican Criminals, and Mexican Criminals' Links with the World Economy

Both of those elements were on display in yesterday's cover story in Milenio: the PGR says that La Familia sold 1.1 million tons of illegally mined iron ore, worth $42 million, to Chinese companies. The accusation was made with regard to the arrest of Nacho López, a recently arrested alleged financial operator of La Familia. In addition to illegally feeding China's voracious appetite for steel, López is also said to have made several trips to the US, where he served five years in prison in the 1990s for a heroin conviction, to set up companies that were used to launder La Familia's cash.

Also, today Milenio is reporting that the PGR says it has proof of illicit business links between Julio César Gody and López.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Godoy's Response

The fugitive deputy says that the tapes, allegedly of La Tuta and Godoy having shady dealings, are old news, and they had already been dismissed as inauthentic. There have been widely varying responses from PRD figures. Hortensia Aragón says that he should resign his seat so as to deal with the charges (which he says he won't do). Jesús Ortega says that it is a media lynching by the PGR. Carlos Navarrete avoided comment on the matter.

Lastly, the PGR says that the link between the two was sealed when La Tuta paid Godoy some $2 million.

More on Finnegan's Tijuana

Bajo Reserva ran an item on the New Yorker piece on Tijuana yesterday, comparing Julián Leyzaola to John Wayne and noting the article's focus on "kicking ass".

That leads me to another element of that story that I found interesting, the idea of Leyzaola being Tijuana's biggest badass (which is Finnegan's characterization). This reflects a tricky problem for the Mexican authorities. Ideally, you don't want security officials in a democratic society motivated by schoolyard passions like being the king of the mountain. This lends itself to an overly macho, insufficiently comprehensive approach, where vital but boring problems are not given due attention. (Rick Atkinson's account of Patton's logistical oversights leading up to the invasion of North Africa in An Army at Dawn comes to mind.) It would also lend itself to the security officer seeing any check on his power as a challenge to his manhood, which in turn lends itself to authoritarian abuses. The distance from this mindset to the torture allegations is short indeed.

At the same time, Mexico's security problems are much more complicated because people have so little respect for law enforcement. A part of that is the badass quotient, which is nonexistent for cops (and, among certain segments of the population, off the charts for narcos). I've mentioned once or twice that if Mexicans want a fictional example of a heroic government officer, they need to look abroad to Jack Bauer or James Bond. In Mexican movies and television, that guy doesn't exist, though corrupt or bumbling officers are all over the place. There clearly needs to be more police who inspire respect, in fiction if possible, without question in real life.

So can Mexico find officials who fit that profile but without demonstrating signs of authoritarianism? Will the Mexican public, which generally treats officials like their children greet piñatas, recognize them as a different class?

More Fireworks between Ebrard and Sandoval Íñiguez

In case anyone thought the Mexico City mayor was going to take the high road in the increasingly ugly spat between he and the nation's foremost clergy, Ebrard calls the Guadalajara archbishop a cave-dweller, a coward, and the product of primitive thinking. Ebrard also invited him to come to the inauguration of a new art center so that he could endow himself with some culture.

Another 40 for La Barbie

La Barbie is that rare Mexican arrestee given consecutive arraigos, which means up to 80 days behind bars without charges being filed. I'm not saying they should let him out, but this seems reflective of the same investigative torpor that prevails nationwide, and probably had something to do with the michoacanazo going bust. Even if they have the luxury of the 80 days, why not formalize is with a charge? Why not have indictments ready for all the major drug traffickers, so the government doesn't have to rely on the arraigo when they are caught? It would help move the criminal justice system away from the opacity and informality that prevail today, which contribute to widespread corruption.

This is also odd because when he arrested, the word was that he was going to extradited with all due haste.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Damning Tapes

The PGR has released a recording of Julio César Godoy, the fugitive deputy and half-brother of Michoacán Governor Leonel Godoy, speaking with a great deal of familiarity and friendliness with Servando La Tuta Gómez, a big shot in La Familia. Creepily, Godoy calls him tío, while Gómez refers to the politician as mijo. Of course, while damning, that alone isn't a crime, but Godoy also asks Gómez to deal with a reporter "who is fucking with us a lot". La Tuta obliges, and also encourages Godoy to be careful, because "things are hot". I'm looking forward to Godoy's justification.

Evidence like this, and not necessarily taped conversations but something tangible and ready for public viewing, was conspicuously absent in the michoacanazo.

Encinas Out

Alejandro Encinas has taken his name out of the running as a possible leftist alternative to the PAN-PRD alliance in Mexico State. His candidacy would have been a high-profile one, and would have almost certainly sunk the alliance and vaulted the PRI to victory. Chances are whomever AMLO and co. settle on will still sink the alliance, but it's hard to imagine them finding someone with a bigger name than Encinas.

Front-Page News

Today's papers are running a story about a DEA black list of twelve Mexican businesses linked to Chapo Guzmán, including a cantina in Mexico City. I think you could sneeze in a lot of Mexican cities and have the contents randomly land on twelve different businesses linked to Chapo or other drug traffickers. And as often as not, the links are common knowledge. The fact that a) such headlines are so rare, and b) they always seem to come from American agencies demonstrates that in terms of attacking gangs' finances, Mexico is pulling its punches.

The Positive Effects of Mexico's Drug Problems

Jonas Brothers cancel concert in Mexico over security fears.
Teenage girls excepted, the nation rejoices, despite the violence.

Diego Release Imminent?

His family says that a ransom has been paid, reportedly more than $20 million, and that the former presidential candidate will soon be released.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Worst Statistic to Ever Walk the Earth

The silliness of certain statistics that somehow gain currency in the media is the topic of the book Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict, and it's a phenomenon that one sees a lot in writing about Mexico's drug trade. Much as I have railed against the billionaire status granted by Forbes to Chapo Guzmán (to say nothing of the $25 billion fortune ascribed to Amado Carrillo, which was more than the entire annual value industry when Carrillo was alive), the most egregious made-up number I've seen is that if the drug trade disappeared, the Mexican economy would shrink by 63 percent. (Google it, and you'll see a fair amount of it.)

In a world of silly numbers, this is surely the silliest. First of all, the premise is absurd: the drug trade isn't going to disappear tomorrow. Industries don't just vanish without warning, and if they did, our estimates about their impact on the economy would likely be wrong. But most frustratingly, this claim is simply insane, like a story that a kindergartner would tell an amused parent: We saw a dog that was bigger than a school bus! The number of people working in the drug trade, which is to say, the Mexicans adding to the P in GDP via drugs, is less then 1 percent of the population, and less than 3 percent of the work force. Very high-end estimates of the drug trade's value place it at about 5 percent of Mexico's GDP. Even accounting for the indirect impact on the legitimate economy, the difference between 5 percent, which again is a high estimate, and 63 percent is quite significant. This is a junk stat that exists not to give government officials any insights about policy, but merely so writers can toss it into articles to raise eyebrows. Unfortunately, most of the people who read that stat will probably believe there's some truth to it.

Now, onto the origin of the stat. Evidently, it comes from a Cisen study earlier this decade. I've never seen the study (and I'd love to if anyone has a link), but assuming that it's legit, being from Cisen doesn't make it any less indefensible. Anyone with a modicum of common sense can safely declare sight unseen that its conclusion is ridiculous. (See above.) Oddly, I've never once seen the study referred to in the Mexican media, which, to be sure, is not hesitant about tossing outlandish stats into their articles. I believe it is mentioned by both Charles Bowden (in Down by the River) and Richard Grant (in God's Middle Finger, as well as in this piece), both of whom employ a very dark, narco-focused vision of Mexico in their writing. But a Spanish Google search for this study by a Mexican agency tuns up nothing.

Two for Two

William Finnegan's new piece in The New Yorker about Tijuana's police chief and the city's improved security climate is quite good, as was his piece about Michoacán several months ago. Against my best efforts, I typically read long-form pieces on the nation subconsciously looking for mistaken facts and flawed thinking, but if there was any of either in Finnegan's article, I didn't see it.

One difficult challenge when writing about Mexico's security issues is the fact that everyone could be lying, and, consequently, every explanation or narrative you seek to employ could be totally false. Some writers take this as a cue to turn journalism on its head, embrace the anti-truth, and write with a degree of cynicism and distrust that basically makes learning anything impossible. Others, particularly in the newspapers, write Mexico basically straight up, which means that a big contextual element is missing, and also that sooner or later, the law of averages will probably catch up to them, and they'll wind up being fed lies by a dirty politician. This is not an easy dilemma, but Finnegan splits the difference quite nicely, and his approach is pitch perfect.

Telling Athletes When to Go

Jack Shafer nails, just nails all the sportswriters who anoint themselves as arbiters of sports greats' legacies, and write preeningly about this or that athlete's need to ignore their own wishes, and go ahead and retire so as to please some small segment of the fan base:
Why are sportswriters so invested in sports stars retiring while still on the top or, as Rhoden puts it, with their "legacy intact"? Sportswriters hardly ever command average players to quit. Michael Jordan endured the chastising nonsense from the sporting press when he returned to the NBA's Washington Wizards in 2001. The Wizard years weren't career-best for Jordan, but by any other measure they were great and meaningful. Yet the sporting press would have you believe that playing two years for the average Wizards somehow diminished Jordan's championship seasons with the Chicago Bulls.


The athlete in decline who decides to leave the game on his own timetable does no harm to anybody. What fan doesn't enjoy seeing his favorite star one more time? Only sportswriters cherish storybook career-finishes. They want Ted Williams to hit a home run in his last at-bat, because that's a prettier story to write than chronicling a superstar who goes out stumbling—like Willie Mays. If sportswriters had their way, every star would die of Lou Gehrig disease during his last dance on the field, the court, or the rink.
This idea is silly, yet it's something that's so ingrained in the sports media that no one ever gets called out for it. Why should any still productive person stop doing something he likes, something that gives him purpose and meaning and a reason to wake up in the morning (all of which can be tricky propositions for the former star athlete) because he was slightly more productive in years past? I can understand the desire in boxing, because of the long-term health issues, but when the wish is based only on diminished performance, it's incredibly selfish to think that for fans or writers to think that their concept of legacy (i.e. their memories) should carry more weight than the athlete's desire to continue living a fulfilling life.

When I reach 65 [looking for wood], if I am happier continuing to draw a paycheck and someone else is willing to pay me, why should I give a crap that someone I don't know thinks it would make a better story if I retired to Boca Raton with my wife? When you examine this trope from an objective distance, it's one of the stupidest concepts presently circulating in the sports world.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Today in Mexican Church Craziness

Hugo Valdemar, a spokesman with the Mexico City archdiocese, requested that Marcelo Ebrard undergo a mental health exam.

And, not to be outdone, Guadalajara Archbishop Juan Sandoval Iñiguez explained why gays don't bother him with the following logic:
They are a very small group, they can't affect the whole of the nation, they are very small groups so regarding them, there's no problem.
One suspects that he might be worried about the size of the gay population growing. The Catholic Church had seemed rather quiet from the abortion legalization in 2007 until about eight or ten months ago. They weren't invisible, but the daily supply of off-the-wall comments was basically nonexistent. This more vocal iteration of the Church is good news for content-hungry bloggers, but bad news for Mexico. One hopes they'll adjust to the 21st century before a social liberal wins the presidency.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Decline of the Accent Mark, Continued

Excélsior, which is in every way a legitimate, professional, major newspaper, has a slogan at the top of their web page reading, El periodico de la vida nacional (The newspaper of national life). "Periódico", however, is correctly written as it is at the beginning of this sentence, with an accent over the first "o". If major print media outlets can't get the accent right on their slogan, of all things, what chance does the grammatical sign have with the rest of the country.

Previous analysis of the future (or lack thereof) of the accent here.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

PRD Tea Leaves

Ricardo Pascoe Pierce, who knows the party well, says:
AMLO just announced that Ebrard is a respectable adversary, but that we will win the popular election that the PRD will hold to define its candidate. Which is to say, according to him, the method agreed to between he and Ebrard is a public and open consultation to define the candidate. In this point there will be, I don't doubt, discrepancies between the rivals. The issue of method is not a small one; in the method the candidate will be determined.

Knowing the PRD, it is clear to me that it will be AMLO. He enjoys his own national structure, outside of the three parties, aside from great popularity based on those organizations. Ebrard lacks that. Moreover, everything makes you think that he will strengthen his position to negotiate a tempting retreat: remain with the capital, by naming the candidate for the PRD to the mayoralty, as well as a Senate seat, to be ready for the presidential candidacy. In 2018.

Another Mayoral Killing

The latest was actually the murder of a mayoral-elect in Oaxaca. This disturbing trend seems to be expanding to more far-flung areas. Leo Zuckermann addressed the targeting of mayors in a column a couple of weeks ago.
What's going on? Why is organized crime assassinating more mayors? A pair of hypotheses occur to me.

The first is a method of organized crime sending a message to the governors they are confronting: "There are no untouchables; today, we kill mayors; tomorrow it could be higher-level authorities; better for you to cut it out before it's your turn."

The second hypothesis has more to do with the vulnerabilities of the mayors. The municipal police that don't have training or funds, but they are still an important element for organized crime's operations. It's common to hear stories from criminals that they go before mayors and offer them "silver or lead" so that they directly control the police command. If the mayors accept, they have to fulfill their compromise or, otherwise, they are killed. And if they don't accept, then they are killed, and maybe their families too.
These two hypothesis don't appear mutually exclusive. One odd thing about this rash of killings has been its lack of a geographic pattern. A lot of have been in the Northeast, but there have also been killings in Michoacán, and now Oaxaca, which isn't typically referred to as a hotbed of organized crime activity.


From Under the Volcano, Reforma reported a couple of weeks ago that the much-heralded vetting programs for Mexico's cops are not being utilized, with only 22 percent of the nation's police having been submitted to such controls. The group with the highest proportion of vetted cops are the federales, with 49 percent. The number drops to 34 percent with the municipal cops, and 8 percent with the state police.

This is another example of a high-minded idea being undermined by a subsequent lack of will at the level of implementation. Increased vetting and monitoring of cops would be a great thing, and could be an important part of a safer Mexico, but not if no one is actually making sure that the improvements mandated from the top are actually installed at the bottom. I had a similar reaction to the judicial reform in 2008: it's all well and good, but it doesn't mean that the hundreds of thousands of security officials in Mexico are all going to be working toward a common goal. I don't know what the answer to this problem is, other than a lot of patience and persistence.

Ugly Finding

Ugh. La Laguna continues its nasty trajectory, with latest iteration being a mass grave in Pedro, said to house the remains of several kidnapping victims. No word on how many people's remains are there.

It's On

The PRD has approved the alliance with the PAN in the state of Mexico. AMLO has, once more, rejected the scheme. It's hard to know how this will play out, but given that he'll surely take a lot of voters with him, I have a feeling Peña Nieto's "dolphin" will end up taking this one. As both Carlos Loret and I (and surely many others) have pointed out, despite training much of his fire on Peña Nieto for the past few years, AMLO is doing more to help in the state of Mexico than anyone.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Future of the Court

Ana Paula Ordorica worries that the replacement to José de Jesús Gudiño, the Supreme Court justice who died suddenly of a heart attack several weeks ago, will turn the Court away from the nonpartisanship it embraced with its most recently arrived justices:
When Justice Zaldívar [who's been a justice since December 2009] presented his findings for the ABC day-care case, at no point was it said that his point of view, that when he described as a generalized disorder in the day-care system in the country and as a result requested the resignation of various officials, among them Juan Molinar Horcasitas, was an observation biased by political affinities.

It was his vision as a jurist and only that. Which should be applauded and conserved. Whether or not you agree with is finding.

But now that President Calderón must send a trio of new nominees to the Senate so that they can select the justice to occupy the seat that Gudiño has left empty, and it's very likely that the naming process is again politicized.

Senator Beltrones, leader of the PRI in the upper chamber, holds the floor. He can use his influence so that a minister favorable to his party is installed, for example Jorge Moreno Collado, or one with ample judicial credentials and without political or partisan leanings.


The governor of Jalisco, staunch conservative Emilio González, says that gay marriages give him "asquito", which is a local idiom for saying that he thinks they're gross. But it's an idiom that sounds best coming from the mouth of an eight-year-old girl talking about the prospect of smooching a fourth-grader, whereas it comes across as kind of odd from a politician making a case for one position or another.

Where Colombia Maybe Can Offer Some Prescriptions for Mexico

Isaac Lee, founder of Poder, argues that Colombia presents a model for how to protect a free press despite threats from organized crime:
In November 1999, three months after Garzón's murder, 32 media executives signed an agreement designed to improve the quality of press coverage of drug-related violence around the country. This attitude was fundamental in helping Colombia reach a consensus on the need to fight drug trafficking and criminal enterprise. There was never any doubt as to what had to be done on the part of the government, the media establishment (this is, the owners and editors of major magazines and newspapers, the most important columnists, and TV networks), or the private sector: Keep on condemning the wrongdoings of the drug traffickers, no matter how harsh the consequences.

The effectiveness of the international war on drugs is debatable. But that uncertainty has not prevented Colombian society from rejecting terror as a means of gaining power. The government must understand that when a member of the press is attacked, society at large is attacked; therefore, defending the media must be a priority. This means that the upmost diligence should be applied to all investigations, prosecutions, and the sentencing of the perpetrators in such cases. And, not only should the president allot as many resources as are necessary for the job, but the highest degree of his political will and accountability should be invested in the enterprise. Journalists, for their part, must remember that the power that comes with getting published and being heard is much more of a responsibility than a privilege.

Periods of crisis such as the ones experienced in Colombia—and now in Mexico—are not the time for doubt or division, but rather for the authorities, the media, and the private sector to join forces and work toward a better future. That should be the lesson of Colombia's terrible recent history.
That part about continuing to condemn the wrongs despite the consequences hasn't happened in Mexico, and I do wonder if it occurred quite as universally in Colombia as he describes. But even if it didn't, the Mexican press and the society at large could certainly present a more unified front in standing up to criminals, but it seems unlikely without a corresponding commitment from the government to investigate and punish crimes against journalists.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Euthanasia in Mexico

The number of Mexicans who've taken advantage of the legalization of euthanasia in Mexico City two years ago is 497. Another 27 began the process but didn't go through with it.

The Massacre's Chilling Effect

Newswire EFE says that the murder of 72 immigrants last month in Tamaulipas has tamped down on northward immigration through Mexico, as fearful potential migrants either stay home or look for other routes. The reporters talked to one guy who runs a hotel that caters to migrants who said that his clientele is down roughly two-thirds since the incident.

Threatening a Veto

Calderón is saying that he will consider vetoing the revenue portion of the budget if the IVA is lowered, as is being discussed. Just "consider" mind you; he's not promising to veto anything. It's odd how small a role the veto plays in Mexican politics, despite a perennially divided Congress. In the US, in contrast, the veto is a hugely effective and often frequently employed tool once the president's party loses Congress. When the PRI was looking like a sure thing to take the Chamber or Deputies, the prevailing narrative was that Calderón is done, the PRI will force everything onto him. Calderón's hands definitely were tied a little tighter as a result of 2009's elections, but it wasn't like the PRI was going to be able to accomplish everything it wanted just because it had (with its coalition parties) the slimmest of majorities. The veto (to say nothing of the PRI's third-party status in the Senate) was almost totally ignored in this logic, for whatever reason. I don't know if it's a product of 70 years of one-party domination, a deeper cultural respect for the consensus, or whatever. Odd.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Onto the Congress

Calderón has a sent a unified police proposal to Congress. This idea has been kicked around with some intensity for months now. I offered my thoughts about the plan in August (short version: it's not a bad idea, but nor is it necessarily an improvement, and it doesn't address the real barriers to better police forces).

Milenio's headline for this story originally had Calderón promising that the unified police command would do away with crime in Mexico. They have since changed the headline, and even before they did, I felt reasonably certain that he made no such promise. The headline was an isolated bit of journalistic irresponsibility, but it was also a reflection of how inflated the hopes riding on the unified police are.

Turning the Tables

Aguachile mentioned how it was inappropriate for Calderón to return the Danger for Mexico topic, and reiterate its message once more. True enough, but it was also politically silly, as the skillful response from AMLO demonstrates:
...I have never called Calderón a danger for Mexico, despite the fact that 30,000 Mexicans have lost their lives thanks to his ineptitude and irresponsibility.
Not entirely fair, since Calderón isn't directly responsible for any of those deaths (at least, not as far as I know), and AMLO uses plenty of insults when discussing Calderón. Nonetheless, a pretty effective comback.


Mario Vargas Llosa has won the Nobel. I never thought he'd win because of his politics, but maybe leaning right doesn't mean as much in the post-Bush area. Whatever your opinion about said politics, the guy knows how to string together a story. One thing I think he gets that many other highly respected novelists forget from time to time is that first and foremost, a novel is supposed to be enjoyable for the reader.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Confusing Picture of Monterrey

The divergent messages of two stories about Monterrey that I read this morning was jarring: the first, Nuevo León, long known as Mexico's economic heartland, is enjoying the strongest recovery with regard to job creation of any state in the country; the second, another splashy front-page story about a shootout in Monterrey, which has been a major center for drug violence for most of the year, thanks to the Gulf-Zetas split.

It'd be nice if the broader story behind the first piece of news will sooner or later mitigate the second. I'm not holding my breath, though. At some point, though, it'd be interesting to read a study of how much the economic crisis contributed to Mexico's spike in violence in 2009, and how much the recovery, weak though it may be, will do alleviate it.

Very Long-term Planning

Mexican officials were bragging up their issue of 100-year bonds today, which puts them in rarified air on the international financial scene. And while it's all well and good that Mexico is able to issue such bonds, I can't help but wonder why the hell would anyone buy them. I'm well aware that you can calculate the present value of future earnings, but even so, isn't the utility of any windfall after you die basically zero? I guess you could take some satisfaction in gifting some Mexican bonds to your kids, but then, if you buy them after they are born, chances are your kids will never be able to cash them in either. In fact, chances are that by the time you are in any position to purchase a significant number of 100-year bonds, even your grandkids wouldn't be able to receive any benefit from them until well into old age. This seems like a very logical question to me (though maybe there's an explanation I'm missing), but the Financial Times write-up of the bond issue made only the most tangential reference to it, with the following quote:
But not everyone was excited. “I’m not seeing investor interest yet in 50-100 year bonds. This might create a market, but I’m sceptical,” Pierre-Yves Bareau, global head of emerging market debt at JPMorgan Asset Management, told the Financial Times. “Given the illiquidity, there are better uses for investors’ cash.”
Ernesto Cordero's comments also make you wonder why this instrument exists.
The economic problems we are experiencing today have a solution, we are on a path for growth and in 100 years we'll be ready to pay the debts contracted.
Left unsaid is the point, But if we can't, it'll be someone else's problem. Furthermore, how can soothing people's fears about today's issues offer any indication of what will happen in 2070 or 2090 or 2105? The financial crisis fallout has about as much relevance to this bond's soundness as the debate over Free Silver does to today's financial regulation, which is to say, none.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It Feels Like 2006

Calderón talking about the "Danger for Mexico" ad, AMLO going on about the mafia that stole the presidency. It feels like nothing has changed.

Over the past few years, it seems as though AMLO fingers Carlos Salinas as the man behind all his misfortune with ever more frequency. No doubt Salinas retains a great deal of influence in some circles in Mexico, but Salinas is a private citizen and had been out of the presidency for 12 years when AMLO lost in 2006. The way AMLO constantly moans about him, he sounds deluded.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Moving Closer to an Alliance

Milenio reports that a PAN-PRD alliance in the Mexico state governor's race is a done deal for the PAN, with the local PRD needing to approve the pact next week. That's not a foregone conclusion, but should the approval be won (the pro-pact bloc fell a single vote short in their most recent attempt), all eyes will then shift toward next July's election day. Assuming a pact does result, everyone should be a pal and send a box of tissues to AMLO and Enrique Peña Nieto.

Crime Impact Stats

A couple of stories on El Universal's front page last week (though that's no longer the ringing endorsement that it once was, as of two posts ago) offer an idea of the costs of Mexico's insecurity: one, from a private security trade group (and likely inflated) is that businesses lose 36 percent of their utility because of the costs of crime; two, from the same group, crime costs Mexicans on average just under 10,000 pesos a year, or about $800.

As Ever, Peña Nieto in Front

A new poll from BGC has the Mexico state governor out in front of the rest of the PRI hopefuls for the presidency, both in terms of likability and public recognition. The poll (which, to my frustration, assigns a slightly arbitrary point value to their findings rather than just simple percentages) found that Peña Nieto's popularity rating had dipped from 7.4 to 6.8 since last October, which could be a product of the Paulette case, but could also just be a case of media saturation and people getting tired of the same face. Beatriz Paredes is second.

Heard It Before

The US is making noise about attacking money-laundering in Mexico:
The Justice Department is refashioning its unit that prosecutes financial institutions for money laundering and claws back the proceeds of crime, to stanch the flow of money to violent Mexican drug cartels and impound the assets of kleptocrats around the world.

The Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, part of the department's Criminal Division, has quietly begun hiring a total of 10 prosecutors and lawyers for two groups that will focus on such efforts.

The hiring spree marks an escalation in the department's anti-corruption mission, including U.S. obligations under international pacts, such as the United Nations convention against corruption. The convention requires member states to adopt stringent anti-corruption laws and policies, including tracing and seizing proceeds of crimes committed abroad.

The moves also represent a strategic shift in the department's role in the Mexican drug war, which has claimed more than 22,000 lives since 2006. Law enforcement officials have acknowledged that more resources are needed to target U.S. financial institutions and professional criminals moving drug cartels' money.

"A top priority is the Mexican cartels," said Jennifer Shasky, chief of the section. "We're going after their money aggressively."
I think I got this from Boz's website, but if it was from somewhere else and I am not giving credit where due, apologies. Assuming that this is a sincere venture, one problem with this would seem to be the lack of interest on attacking dirty money by the Mexican government.


Last week, El Universal had a front page story titled, Entran al país dos mil armas diarias, or Two thousand guns come into the country every day. The info came from a new USA Today story about how vehicle searches at the Mexican border are not resulting in a great deal of contraband being discovered. The USA Today story, in turn, got the info from a Brookings expert. The odd thing is that, from what I can tell from poking around the Brookings website, the estimate is not the product of a new study or anything, but rather is some years-old stat that they came up with at some point and that newspapers use as supporting details in stories about Mexico, just as we saw in this case. The 2,000 per day stat isn't outside of the normal range of estimates, nor is it new, nor was it a major part of a landmark story. So why was there a front-page story in El Universal, arguably Mexico's most respected, even-handed newspaper, about it? Slow news day, I suppose, but the solution to that is not to recycle old non-news.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Northside Corruption

Dirty feds exist on both sides of the border, we are reminded:
A veteran inspector with U.S. Customs and Border Protection was arrested this afternoon at a U.S.-Mexico border crossing on bribery, drug trafficking and human smuggling charges, the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego said.

Lorne Leslie Jones, 46, of Chula Vista, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and bringing in illegal aliens for financial gain, according to a criminal complaint unsealed today. He is also charged with aiding drug traffickers smuggle more than 9,300 pounds of marijuana into the country.

Jones, a former marine who became a U.S. Customs inspector in 1994, worked at San Diego-area border crossings in San Ysidro and Otay Mesa, where he’d been assigned as a canine officer since 2005, said assistant U.S. attorney Edward Weiner.
I probably read about a half dozen of these stories a year, give or take, and usually in off-the-beaten-path publications. I wonder how many American federal agents are charged with corruption on a yearly basis; there's got to be a lot more of this going on than the few cases I'm reading about. You'd think a broad rundown of the frequency of and efforts to combat corruption on the US side of the border would be a logical topic for a long piece by one of the many media organizations who've run out of new drug-war stories to tell.

Why the US Is Distrusted in Latin America

This is an ugly story:
U.S. government medical researchers intentionally infected hundreds of people in Guatemala, including institutionalized mental patients, with gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge or permission more than 60 years ago.

Many of those infected were encouraged to pass the infection onto others as part of the study.

About one third of those who were infected never got adequate treatment.
Of course, another reason is that irresponsible leaders with ulterior motives benefit from the US being perceived as a monster:
Venezuela VP falsely claims US behind coup attempt in Ecuador. Venezuela is playing politics rather than helping Ecuador's president.