Friday, April 30, 2010

Soccer Notes

I liked this part of the note about Juergen Klinsmann joining ESPN:
"What I can bring to the table in analyzing games and talking is to make people understand what goes on on a soccer field actually reflects a nation," he said. "I'd like to tell people why they're playing a certain way, what's in the back of their mind. It all goes back to roots of where they grew up and how they identify with their own nation."
My hope is that doesn't translate into the standard tropes about the organized Germans, the creative Brazilians, et cetera, but rather is used to explain mistakes teams make: "Unfortunately, they are known for stupid mistakes in [insert country here], and wow they just made another."

Also, as long as we're on the World Cup, it's fun to see Chicharito's name on the list of three potential breakout players composed by ESPN:
As accomplished in possession as El Tri is, the team has been desperately searching for a reliable goal scorer. During World Cup qualifying, the likes of Omar Bravo, Carlos Vela and Guillermo Franco were given opportunities to make one of the forward spots their own and couldn't provide the consistency needed. In Hernandez, Mexico may have found its man. The 21-year-old has been devastating for Chivas de Guadalajara during the Mexican Bicentenario, scoring 10 goals in 11 games. He's delivered the goods in Mexico's recent spate of friendlies, as well, netting four goals in as many appearances. Hernandez can also score in a variety of ways, with his ridiculous leaping ability making him a threat in the air as well as on the ground.

The only question for Hernandez is: Can he translate his form from friendly matches into games when the stakes are highest? With fellow breakout candidate Giovani Dos Santos by his side, Hernandez looks like a player who can do just that.
The more I think about Chicharito's transfer to Man U, the less sense it makes from Chivas' perspective. If they hold on to him for the rest of the year, they have a good shot at a historic (in Mexican soccer) double of the Mexican league title and Copa Libertadores trophy, which has never before been won by a Mexican club. Plus they get to see him in the World Cup, and if he scores a pile of goals against world-class defenses, then the price tag for him spikes enormously, and maybe you have Man U and Inter in a bidding war for him. As it happens, they sold him for the tidy sum of 6 million pounds (indeed, a record transfer for the Mexican league), but Chivas limped to the finish in Mexico and are now no one's favorite in the liguilla, and if Hernández goes wild in South Africa, it won't mean anything financially for his old Mexican club.

Very Good Piece

Malcolm Beith has a great article about the difficulty tallying up drug-related murders, and the general unreliability of statistical info related to organized crime. This is I believe the first piece that I have ever seen pulling apart those numbers (excluding blog posts), despite the fact that drug-related murder is an extremely vague label that can very easily be manipulated one way or another. Really good stuff, and something that somehow virtually no one on either side of the border pays much attention to.

Weak Arguments

David Frum supports Arizona's law with a handful of weak, misleading arguments. Among them:
Mexico’s drug war has reached into Arizona cities.
Since the fundamental driver of drug violence from Colombia to Columbus is the American prohibition, it's a bit disingenuous to say that Mexico's war has reached the US. If anything, the US prohibition has come home to roost. In any event, I'd be interested to see some stats about the percentage of convicted murderers in Phoenix who are Mexican. I'm guessing that most are not.
Federal authorities capture an average of 1.5 tons of marijuana per day in Arizona. Drug-related kidnappings, tortures, and murders of illegals by illegals have made Phoenix one of the most violent cities in the United States.
Not sure what year this info comes from, because as of 2008, it was completely false. That year, Phoenix had a murder rate of just over ten, less than Houston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Memphis, Nashville, Milwaukee, Washington, Atlanta, and many others. Indeed, George Will made that point in this column from 2009.

And:
The most effective section of the new Arizona law grants local police the same powers to deal with illegal migrants that New York City used in the 1990s to deal with illegal guns.
Aside from the jarring ease with which he compares people and weapons, that's a false equivalency, because illegal guns are inherently related to violent crime, while illegal immigrants are not. Also, I think he overstates the impact of New York's stricter gun policies on its lowering crime rates, since dropping rates of violent crime was a nationwide trend that included many cities that did not implement a New York-style weapons policy.

But the worst element of this piece is the effortless jump between Mexico's drug violence and undocumented Mexicans in the US. The implication is that where you have one, you automatically have the other, or even that they are part of the same phenomenon. While Mexican criminal groups have taken on larger role in drug smuggling, Frum plays way too loose with that connection. You could magically wave all the illegal immigrants out of Arizona tomorrow, and Mexico's drug runners would still send drugs northward, and the recipients of their merchandise in Phoenix and other cities around the country would still be killing people on a daily basis. Conflating Mexico's drug violence with illegal immigration confuses both issues, and offers little in the way of a solution to either.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Zuckermann on Clinton

Zuckermann on some of the less controversial remarks from the former president:
And here is where the ex-president reminds us that maybe Mexicans are not as bad as we sometimes think. Think, he said, how your country has advanced in recent decades; everything today is better. Again Clinton left me thinking. And I ask you: Are there not many things in Mexico that are better today than they were a generation or two ago?
This is a point that bears repeating and is almost always ignored in the Mexican media. It's also a point that never gets made in the US media, although the impact of its absence is greater in Mexico because woe-is-meism about the state of the nation is much for pronounced, both among media elites and regular folks. Anyway, for all of the valid criticisms of Mexico's democratic transition, its bloody and uncertain crime policies, its hidebound political class, et cetera, et cetera, the nation is moving fitfully forward. It's hard to think of many areas in which the country is worse today than it was in 1990, in 1980, in 1960. This isn't argument for ignoring the above problems and the many pressing issues facing Mexico, but the despair about the state of the nation frequently goes overboard.

An Additional Element

There's a provision in the new national security law that increases penalties on soldiers who defect and offer their services to organized crime groups, up to 60 years in some cases. One lawmaker complained that this is more than three times the jail time a soldier faces for murder, and indeed there does seem to be a broad lack of coherence to the sentencing scheme. In any event, while increasing the length of sentences allows lawmakers to look tough, the key challenge remains reducing impunity, which is much more complicate.

Now's the Time

OECD President José Ángel Gurría, a Mexican national, says that now is for Mexico to embrace a lasting fiscal reform:
Fiscal reform is the great pending task for Mexico. It's a maxim that we have been hearing for years, but it is more pressing than ever in the present context. Despite some signs of economic recovery, the budget deficit and the need to protect those sectors most affected by unemployment and economic contraction make the modernization of our fiscal system especially urgent. The global crisis offers a unique opportunity in our history to carry out this reform that are nation so needs.

[Break]

Lastly, the government must offer results as far as spending efficiency. To convince the population of the importance of fulfilling their fiscal obligations they have to demonstrate that paying taxes brings results and contributes to improving everyone's quality of life. It's not about only assuring that each peso that is spent has a maximum impact on benefits and social services, but also guarantee that spending is fairer and more equitable. While taxes and transfers contribute to reducing the Gini coefficient from 47.6 to 28.2 on average in OECD countries, in Mexico it has only dropped from 51 to 49.4...our fiscal system doesn't diminish the differences in the level of income.

It's important to point out that important steps have been taken in recent months. The introduction of additional fiscal charges to the wider tax base, such as the single-rate corporate tax [IUTU], is good news. Despite that, they remain partial and short-term solutions, with an impact in terms of efficiency and cost of implementation that must be carefully examined.

The global economic crisis offers a unique opportunity to sidestep party interests and pass a thorough fiscal reform that allows us to a consolidate a stronger, cleaner, and fairer economic and social model..Our time is up and there's no alternative.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

More Sinaloa Polls

Milenio agrees with Mitofsky and has the PRI candidate up by five.

Stolen Databases

Jorge Chabat checks in on last week's big story about Mexicans' personal info being sold illegally in Mexico City:
The possession of this information by criminals is in and of itself a very serious threat to the security of each and every Mexican. Access to said information opens the door to a wide variety of extortions by criminals. That's why it's not unusual that in some cases of kidnapping and extortion, criminals declare with conviction that they know where their victims, or their families, live and and they can take revenge at any moment that they want. And it's probably true. Certainly, a world is watching is ... and it's the world of crime.

[Break]

The question in the air is if after this scandal the authorities will do anything. And the truth is that on this point it's hard to be optimistic. The investigative ability of the justice departments is more than in doubt. From the case of the two "blonds" in the kidnapping and murder of Fernando Martí to the death of the little girl Paulette Gebara whose cadaver suddenly "appeared" as though from an unknown dimension, the panorama that our insistence on justice produces is pathetic. Before such a backdrop, what we will surely see is more distrust when Mexicans provide personal info, until the point at which every Mexican uses identifications that don't contain a single accurate piece of info. A great advance.

Reaction to the PAN's Hard Right, Mexico City Edition

There was an interesting note in Baja Reserva about growing frustration with the hard right among panistas in Mexico City:
The relationship of Mariana Gómez del Campo with the progressive wing of the PAN in the Legislative Assembly of Mexico City is growing more strained. For months, the coordinator is locked into frontal combat with deputy Lía Limón, and now with Juan Carlos Zárraga, also a legislator. She seeks to block them from supporting a surrogate mother initiative, which would permit a woman to lend her womb to carry another couple's baby to term. Mariana Gómez and Lía Limón became distanced months ago, with the reform of the Mexico City Civil Code that allowed marriage between people of the same sex. Since then, Mariana has punished Lía: she reduces the importance of her job in the Assembly or she pulls her from tasks, such as the commissions. She has even sought to block both her and Zárraga from making public declarations or giving press conferences. Nevertheless, within her own panista caucus, Mariana is losing support. Her conservative crusade makes her seem obstinate and prone to temper tantrums, her fellow panistas say. In contrast, with time the position of Lía Limón and Juan Carlos Zárraga acquires greater justification when you consider that Mexico City is a city of liberal voters.
Now, this could be product of one person leaking his or her opinion rather than a reflection of actual opposition to Gómez, but assuming it extends beyond just the two people mentioned in the piece with personal reasons for resentment, that's heartening. And somewhat validating, since I've always felt that the PAN was, el Yunque aside, not built around opposition to liberal social policies.

Yesterday's Big Passage

The Mexican Senate passed the National Security Law that had been kicked loosely around for more than a year, and then intensely for the past couple of weeks. Here are the particulars:
The law establishes the steps by which the president authorizes troops to work against crime, but prohibits the suspension of guarantees, the state of emergency, or the use of the army to suffocate social movements or electoral conflicts.

Under the new scheme, governors or state congresses will have to solicit the federal government to deploy troops to combat crime.

The solicitations will be revised by the National Security Council and by the Senate before the president can authorizes the sending of soldiers via a "decree of domestic security impact".

Although the senators have left until later the military fuero reform, the law establishes that soldiers and marines can be judged in civilian courts for crimes that affect the civilian population, according to international treaties to which Mexico is a party.
I think it shows a good deal of foresight to include the prohibition of the army being used to deal with social or electoral conflicts, and overall, this is a positive step, although one worries that it doesn't include a long-term plan for the army not being involved at all in domestic security, which should be the ultimate goal. In any event, the law now goes over to the Chamber of Deputies for consideration.

Disappointment

Bummer of a game between Barça and Inter. It's hard to fault Mourinho for his strategy, but it was like watching a 90-minute penalty kill, which, given the talent on the pitch, was depressing. Or more aptly, it was like watching the Bulls-Knicks from the 1990s, only this version's Jordan never got on track and the wrong team won.

Will on Arizona's Law

George Will makes the following points in his defense of Arizona's exercise in xenophobia:
Although liberals are appalled by racial profiling, some seem to think vocational profiling (police officers are insensitive incompetents) is merely intellectual efficiency, as is state profiling (Arizonans are xenophobic).

Probably 30 percent of Arizona's residents are Hispanic. Arizona police officers, like officers everywhere, have enough to do without being required to seek arrests by violating settled law with random stops of people who speak Spanish. In the practice of the complex and demanding craft of policing, good officers -- the vast majority -- routinely make nuanced judgments about when there is probable cause for acting on reasonable suspicions of illegality.

Arizona's law might give the nation information about whether judicious enforcement discourages illegality. If so, it is a worthwhile experiment in federalism.

Non-Hispanic Arizonans of all sorts live congenially with all sorts of persons of Hispanic descent. These include some whose ancestors got to Arizona before statehood -- some even before it was a territory. They were in America before most Americans' ancestors arrived. Arizonans should not be judged disdainfully and from a distance by people whose closest contacts with Hispanics are with fine men and women who trim their lawns and put plates in front of them at restaurants, not with illegal immigrants passing through their back yards at 3 a.m.
Interesting take, with interesting serving as a euphemism for reprehensible. Interestingly, the first bolded section seems to indicate that conservatives are not appalled by racial profiling. As to his charge of hypocrisy, I don't think anyone is saying that all Arizonans are xenophobic, but that the law certainly is in that it would seem to require treating accented people differently than native English speakers, and the burden of proof is on the people who support the law to demonstrate that they are not. Furthermore, with regard to the final section, what in God's name does one's interaction with Hispanics have to do with one's opinion of the law? I have no interaction with Georgians, but the accusations of war crimes during the Russian invasion were nonetheless unsettling. This law is objectionable regardless of whether or not you spend a lot of time with Latin people.

Lastly, you can dress this discussion up a million different ways, and defend it by attacking the federal government or arguing that it is an exercise in federalism, but plainly this is a law that very plausibly could lead to a law-abiding legal immigrant or even a naturalized American citizen having a chance encounter with a police officer and getting tossed in jail. To support this law is support that eventuality.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Odd Declaration, Odd Reaction

Bill Clinton caused a minor stir when he said this weekend that Mexico needed a "Plan Mexico" to enable the US and its southern neighbor to attack organized crime together. Fernando Gómez Mont caused a still minor but rather larger stir when he reacted with indignation to Clinton's opinion. Baja Reserva has more:
As the kids say: what part of "Bill Clinton supports Mexico" did the secretary of governance not understand? Where did the fury come from? Last saturday, the ex-president of the United States came out in favor of "Plan Mexico" against drug traffickers, designed for Mexico "so that no Mexican thinks that we are interfering in their affairs or trying to determine their future". And yes, he said that neither our country nor any other can win the war alone. The next day, Sunday, Clinton defended Mexico before an audience on Univision: "It's not a failed state ... Felipe Calderón has made a great effort to defend the society from the drug traffickers...But that same Sunday, a furious Fernando Gómez Mont "responded" to Clinton: "We need them to accept the shame of collecting the weapons with which Mexicans in this country are assassinated, and the invoice of their money, of their consumer market, that foments and motivates violent activity in Mexico" he said. What's that about? Did he read the entire declaration of Clinton, or does he know something that rest of us didn't know or didn't understand.
It was a bizarre way of framing the idea that the US needs to invest more in Mexico's security, given that Colombia's security problems and its relationship with the US are vastly different than Mexico. Nonetheless, I can't help but agree that Gómez Mont's reaction, even if its negativity was justifiable, was needlessly angry.

Economic Positives

The peso is at presently at its strongest position vis-a-vis the dollar of the year, at just over 12 per. This represents an appreciation of the peso of about 20 percent since it reached its low during the crisis. This rebound was actually predicted by Pacific Investment Management last November, so kudos to those guys with their soothsaying prowess. The peso's strengthening is good for Mexico, but it is bad news for those of us who receive periodic payments in dollars. Then again I also get paid in pesos, so I'm screwed/blessed either way, so maybe I should quit complaining.

Unemployment is down below 5 percent according to official numbers.

Also, Grupo Modelo, which makes Corona and is one of the nation's most important businesses, announced a 17 percent spike in earnings in the first quarter of 2010. It's be nice if they paid all of us loyal customers a dividend denominated in their product, though I won't hold my breath. Anyway, such news was impossible a year ago.

The Michoacán Mayors

There is a great New Yorker-style story to be written about the arrests of the mayors in Michoacán last year (most of whom have since been released without charges being filed). I propose Gatopardo as the publication to commission and run the piece. Anyway, William Booth scratches the surface with a recent piece in the Post:

The episode illustrates a central challenge faced by Mexico, where law enforcement authorities remain hard pressed to win major conspiracy cases, either because they arrest the wrong people or because prosecutors remain hobbled by incompetence.

It also suggests that despite Calderón's pledges of sweeping reform, Mexico has a long way to go in rebuilding its corrupt and hapless police and judiciary.

[Break]

"The cartels never pressured me to cooperate. They never called me," said Antonio González, a Xerox dealer and mayor of Uruapan, a bustling city in the heart of Michoacan's avocado country.

During his eight months in jail, González said, investigators told him that they had been listening in on his phone calls for six months. "I kept waiting to see some evidence of my crime," said González, who spent the days jumping an imaginary rope and working on his memoirs.

He said the accusations against him came from anonymous tips. "My lawyers told me: 'This is a joke. Any lawyer can see that they don't have any evidence against you. There's no way you'll even spend the 40 days here. You should be out in a couple of days,' " said González, who belongs to Calderón's party.

He says he was interrogated by a prosecutor who badgered him to confess that he once had lunch with a cartel member named "Mr. Gómez," whom González says he does not remember.

"This was all based in rumors. Rumors and lies. They were looking for a scapegoat and people talk, perhaps for political reasons," González said. "It was a horrible experience, just horrible."

[Break]

Leonel Godoy Rangel, governor of Michoacan, complained that the federal government treated the mayors like criminals but acted with little evidence; he said the mayors deserve an apology.

Interior Secretary Fernando Gómez-Mont said no apology will be forthcoming. The mayors were released because judges found insufficient evidence, he said, not because "their innocence has been proven."

It remains unclear to what degree was this cooked up for political reasons, why some or most or all of these mayors were believed to be protecting organized crime, and whether or not they were actually doing so. The police and judiciary are referred to as "hapless and corrupt", but without the answers to the above questions, it's impossible to say whether this fiasco stems from haplessness, garden-variety prosecutorial overreach, political considerations, a little bit of each, or something else altogether.

That last line from Gómez Mont is key, and needs to be pulled apart a lot more. It's a plausible reason for their release, but we shouldn't accept it on its face. Booth didn't get any access to federal officials nor is there any detail about the evidence that triggered their arrest, so that vital part of the story remains untold.

Hating on PowerPoint

I absolutely hate PowerPoint. It is, in the classroom anyway, far too often a way of fluffing up a crappy lesson that can't stand on its own, or obfuscating a solid lesson that would be a lot clearer without a projector. I feel heartened about the future of the United States after learning from today's NY Times that many of the nation's senior military figures feel the same way:
"PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.
Of course, as with the cockroach and the rat, the hatred of powerful, logical, and determined people everywhere is not enough to drive it into extinction:

Despite such tales, “death by PowerPoint,” the phrase used to described the numbing sensation that accompanies a 30-slide briefing, seems here to stay. The program, which first went on sale in 1987 and was acquired by Microsoft soon afterward, is deeply embedded in a military culture that has come to rely on PowerPoint’s hierarchical ordering of a confused world.

“There’s a lot of PowerPoint backlash, but I don’t see it going away anytime soon,” said Capt. Crispin Burke, an Army operations officer at Fort Drum, N.Y., who under the name Starbuck wrote an essay about PowerPoint on the Web site Small Wars Journal that cited Lieutenant Nuxoll’s comment.

The PRI Surges in Mexico City

As we have mentioned many times over the course of the past year or so, the PRI is making political hay around the nation, though one area has been conspicuously absent from their list of triumphs: Mexico City. The nation's capital is primarily a PRD town, and in the enclaves where the PRD isn't trusted, it's the PAN that dominates. The PRI, however, has the support you might expect a Red Sox fan to enjoy in the Bronx. But a new poll from Buendía & Laredo shows that the PRI's fortunes in Mexico City may be changing:
In party preference, without naming any possible candidates, the PRD leads the sympathies with 30 percent support, followed by the PRI (21 percent). The PAN, second place in the last two [mayoral] contests, now occupies third place (16 percent).

With Beatriz Paredes as the candidate, the PRI could recover the nation's capital. Thanks to her positioning, she has support that exceeds that of her party by more than 12 percentage points (in different surveys her minimum support is 33 percent). She is the winner in all of the combinations analyzed here.

Jesús Ortega is the most competitive perredista with Beatriz Paredes (he obtains 30 points against with 34 for the PRI president...). In general, the possible aspirants from the PRD evaluated here obtain a level of support similar to that of the party or beneath it. Furthermore, the possible PRD candidates win all of the surveys, except when Beatriz Paredes is the PRI candidate.

In the case of the PAN, Demetrio Sodi is the most competitive aspirant with a level of support between 20 and 21 percent (slightly greater than the support of his party). If the PRI doesn't play its best card, the PRI and the PAN are basically tied in voter preference.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Building, Building

The Mexican reaction to Arizona's experiment with police statism took a while to gain strength, but it appears to be asserting itself with steadily growing force. Calderón said that it "opens the door to hate and discrimination". Secretary José Ángel Córdova called it abominable. Carlos Navarrete said it was part of a conservative offensive against Obama. Crooner Raphael leapt to the word "scandal", but on second thought I think he might have been talking about something else.

The media, too: El Universal has published literally dozens of notes on the issue, from San Francisco's potential boycott of Arizona, to the adverse effects for Mexican airlines with service to Arizona, to requests for Sonora to suspend trade with the state with which it shares a long border.

Popularity and the Priístas

No real changes here: according to BGC/Excélsior, Enrique Peña Nieto remains the most popular and the best known of all the active priístas in Mexico, followed by Beatriz Paredes, Francisco Labastida (whose present profile isn't too big, but who was a previous presidential candidate), and Manlio Fabio Beltrones. Like most of the priístas on the list, Peña Nieto's ratings have been steadily dropping, which perhaps points to a not-too-distant future when Mexico is fed up with the tricolor and no longer voting it into power in election after election.

Points for regular Mexicans: the priístas with the worst images according to the general public were its lovely pair of authoritarian governors in Puebla and Oaxaca, respectively: Mario Marín and Ulises Ruiz.

Organized Crime News Bits

The Mexican defense secretariat has assigned blamed in the murder of two Mormon leaders in Lebaron, Chihuahua to Vicente Carrillo's group.

Also, another associate of Édgar Valdés was arrested in the central part of the country, this time in Mexico City. The man is named Dagoberto Jiménez and is nicknamed the Singer, which places him among the best name/nickname combinations in the history of the Mexican drug traffickers, although I'm still partial to Amado "Lord of the Skies" Carrillo. Anyway, the number of people linked to Édgar Valdés to fall into federal custody has been steadily rising.

Lastly, five members of La Línea have been arrested for participating in an ambush of a group of Federal Police in Juárez, during which six people officers were killed.

Calderón's Admonitions

I have a new piece about Calderón's urging everyone to not be so negative about Mexico.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Political Murder?

The state director of the PT in Guerrero was murdered this weekend. Rey Hernández had been in charge of the floundering negotiations with the PRD and the PAN regarding electoral and legislative alliances in the state. The destructive eras in which murders were a standard facet of political life are largely behind Mexico, and one of course hopes that this crime doesn't harbor a return of such violent tactics.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Bad News from Morelia

The capital of Michoacán, which has been relatively quiet in recent days, suffers a new manifestation of the ill effects of the upset in the world of organized crime: the director of public security, Minerva Bautista Gómez, was attacked last night, and although she escaped with injuries, four others did not, including two of her bodyguards.

On the Radio

I spoke with Silvio Canto about Mexico earlier this week, have a listen.

Friday, April 23, 2010

At the Risk of Beating a Dead Horse, Another PRI Lead

This is a little more significant in that it is a huge deficit for the PAN in a state that it presently controls: the PRI's Carlos Lozano has a 14-point edge over the PAN's Martín Orozco.

In related electoral news, the PT has broken all of its alliances with the PAN and the PRD save Oaxaca.

Speaking of Violence in Cuernavaca. Plus, Another Example of the Intersection Between Drug Traffickers and Beauty Queens

An evidently high-level associate of Édgar Valdés, who is said to be behind much of the recent violence in the center of the country, was arrested in the State of Mexico this week. After his arrest, reports surfaced that former Miss Universe Alicia Machada has a child with the man, which she denies.

Another New York Institution in Slim's Hands

He bought the Goldman Sachs building. That follows his minority stake in the NY Times. Next up: the NY Stock Exchange? The Yankees? Jay-Z?

Great News for Tequila Fans

According to a new study, the agave plant (from which tequila is derived) reduces the risk of osteoporosis, helps control diabetes, and combats obesity. Bottoms up!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Modifying the Military Fuero: Next Time

Calderón has struck a deal with Senate leaders, who had passed a relatively significant modification of the restrictions upon the army in domestic security tasks, to postpone possible changes to the military fuero until the next legislative session, which I believe begins in September.

Disputing the Official Version

This is from a while back, but worth repeating: on April 9, Judith Torres reported that no one in Juárez believes the theory that Chapo has won the town. It does seem a bit far-fetched, but the one thing I can't make heads or tails of is why the US officials would be eager to get that story out there. One of the sources for Torres' blog post says that the Americans peddling the story have their interests, but how are American or DEA interests served by falsely promoting the idea that Chapo controls the city?

The LA Times on Mexico

The LA Times has a strongly worded editorial in today's paper about recent violence in Cuernavaca:
The fear and violence in central Mexico underscore how Calderon missed the point in a series of tone-deaf comments that have cost him support for his war. A government report leaked last week put the number of dead nationwide at 22,700 since Calderon launched his crackdown on the cartels in December 2006. He noted a little too dismissively that most of those were narcos and their associates. He also has pointed out that Mexico's homicide rate is lower than that of Jamaica and Brazil, Washington and New Orleans, yet they're not branded as danger zones and losing tourists. Mexico has an "image problem," he said at a recent tourism conference. "We have to work on the perception and image of Mexico."

No, actually, this isn't an image problem. It's a real problem to residents of Cuernavaca, Ciudad Juarez and a growing list of cities whose citizens don't care whether things are worse in Rio de Janeiro or Washington.
I agree that the comments from Calderón were tone-deaf and inappropriate, and I've written a not-yet-published piece arguing just that. (Though somehow I managed to not use the expression "tone-deaf" anywhere in the piece, a further sign of my declining English skills.) But I disagree that it isn't an image problem. It's both a security problem and a related problem of perception. The two aren't mutually exclusive, and addressing them both requires a two-pronged strategy. The security problem is certainly a priority, but you can't blame the Calderón administration for pointing out the gap between Mexico's image and its reality (although I don't think Calderón should necessarily be the person to make that case, at least not in the way he has).

Spanish Soccer Comment of the Day

First of all, do yourself a favor and check out Andrés Iniesta's crazy website (in English, too!) as soon as you can. I don't even know what to compare it to, but the midfielder kind of comes across as a young Mr. Rogers. I particularly recommend the wine section.

Second, though he has Pepe Reina and Iker in front of him, I've often wondered why we never, ever see Víctor Valdés with the Red Fury. So does Phil Ball:
Victor Valdes surely deserves to go to South Africa and actually play. It's a funny thing now, but brilliant though Casillas remains, he suddenly seems less able to save his team's bacon, less capable of the wonder saves. Valdes, meanwhile, is both safe and spectacular. Against Espanyol he did it again, making an almost impossible save from Osvaldo at the end of the first half. In terms of one-on-one, he is better than Casillas now. I don't know how well Reina is playing for Liverpool, but it would be insane not to take Valdes to the World Cup.

Yet More States Where the PRI Leads

In Puebla, one of the foremost targets of the PAN-PRD alliance, and where the outgoing PRI boss is probably the most disgraceful politician in the nation, the PRI's man leads the PAN and PRD candidate by a margin of 35.5 to 26.4.

In Durango, where there is also an alliance, the PRI's Jorge Herrera leads the PAN/PRD's José Rosas Aispuro by almost 20 points. In Tlaxcala, the PRI's Mariano González holds a 3.5 point advantage over Adriana Dávila of the PAN and the PRD.

In Tamaulipas, where there is no alliance and where the PRI has long been both supreme and closely linked to drug gangs, the PAN candidate has an almost 20-point deficit.

In Zacatecas, where there is no PAN-PRD alliance, the PRI candidate enjoys 25 percent voters support, compared to 17 for the PRD and 16 for the PAN. Presumably the PRD wasn't interested in an alliance in Zacatecas because it's long been the strongest party there, but it's ironic how in the states where it could actually bring success the two parties eschewed collaboration. In essence, it looks at this point as though the PAN and PRD underestimated the size of the PRI's advantage, judging that with an alliance they would be able to compete in states where even together they look overwhelmed, and thinking that an alliance wouldn't be necessary to win in states where in fact it would.

I should add that all of the polls to which I've linked to in recent days have come from the same pollster, and said pollster was attacked by a panista for being a PRI partisan after one of them. Nonetheless, we have nine gubernatorial polls (out of twelve states with governor's races), and the PRI is ahead in each of them. Not only that, but it is ahead by double digits in five of the nine, and enjoys a lead of more than five points in seven races. Of course, until we start seeing competing polls we should take this with a grain of salt, and a lot can change in the two and a half months until election day. Furthermore, nine of these entities are PRI states to begin with (including eight for whom we've seen polling), so a relatively mild swing in the polls could harbor a net gain for the non-PRI; nonetheless, the PRI's gains in 2009 are looking less and less like a one-off event.

Update: In Hidalgo, Mitofsky pegs the PAN- and the PRD-supported Xochitl Gálvez (one of the highest profile alliance candidates) at 31 percent support, 20 points behind her PRI rival Francisco Olvera Ruiz. In Sinaloa, the PRI has a three-point edge with Jesús Vizcarra over the PAN-PRD's Mario López.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Moving toward a More Scientific Mexico

By a vote of 280-2, the Chamber of Deputies has voted to create the Mexican Space Agency, which isn't exactly the same thing as making the nation more scientifically competent in ways that could benefit Mexicans, but is still vaguely encouraging. Such an agency had been discussed for years, and a plan to create one was actually passed by the Senate in 2008.

Illicit Info Databases and Reaction to Them

Earlier this week, El Universal reported that enormous databases of personal information, ranging from phone numbers to vehicle numbers, are for sale in Tepito, the infamous Mexico City neighborhood that functions as a little slice of the Tri-Border Area in the middle of DF. The memory sticks on which the information costs around $12,000, according to the report. This provoked an apology yesterday from Leo Zuckermann, who last week had chastised Mexicans who didn't register their cell phones because they didn't have faith in the government's ability to handle the personal info responsibly.

He followed that up today with a column wondering why this isn't a greater scandal. I think Zuckermann's faith (and mine) that stuff like that this shouldn't and won't happen (at least, not often) is part of the explanation; I imagine for lots of Mexicans this just confirms their worst suspicions.

Horrible Law

Arizona's state legislature has passed a fantastic new law:
The law requires state and local police to determine the status of people if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they are illegal immigrants and to arrest people who are unable to provide documentation proving they are in the country legally.

It also makes it a crime to transport someone who is an illegal immigrant and to hire day laborers off the street.

If it is signed by the governor or if it is not vetoed within the next five days, it becomes law. So if Mexicans or Mexican-Americans forget their passport or visa, they could go to jail? You could essentially be arrested for having an accent? That is simply insane. Supposing this is passed and strictly enforced, if one has Latino roots or a Mexican wife and has to choose between starting a business in Arizona and, say, anywhere else in the country, you're going to choose the non-Arizona option every time.

Where's McCain on this, I wonder? I know he's gone far right because of the primary challenge, but has he had nothing to say?

Update: As commenters Ken and PJK point out, indeed he has.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Zavala in the Times

Margarita Zavala has a profile in the New York Times today, in which the differences between Marta Sahagún remained clear as can be:
[S]he was also aware that her predecessor, who had presidential aspirations, had been a polarizing figure. Political tensions were high after Mr. Calderón won a close election in 2006 that split the country, and Ms. Zavala did not want to cause any controversy, said Sara Sefchovich, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico who has written about Mexico’s first ladies.

While she has worked to raise the profile of women in her party and is an advocate for women’s rights in the workplace, one traditionally feminist argument has never swayed her: she opposes abortion. Her only political declaration since Mr. Calderón has taken office has been to condemn the legalization of abortion in Mexico City.
Michelle Obama also spoke quite well of Zavala. For the definitive profile of Zavala, please click on Sefchovich's piece from one year ago.

Foreign Pronouncements

Lots of non-Mexicans have had comments on Mexican security recently. Among them:

1) César Gaviria said that ungovernability is growing in Mexico. He focused on the political aspect of the fight against organized crime, and said that Mexican officials have not learned how to set security aside from the daily sniping and form a common front. I agree!

2) A Deloitte survey says that nearly half of directors of businesses that operate in Mexico said that insecurity threatens the nation's economic growth. This makes security a greater concern for businesses than the lack of political dynamism and the continued economic problems in the US. According to the piece, the insecurity figure is also up from 22 percent in December 2009, which makes you suspect that either the article is mistaken or the survey is off base.

3) Carlos Pascual says that the drug violence is slowing investment in Mexico. Also, Pascual used to have a sinister beard. I wish he still did.

More Presidential-ness from Peña Nieto

He's already campaigning:
Arguing that poverty, political confrontation, and violence "can't continue being the distinguishing symbol of Mexico", the governor of Mexico State, Enrique Peña Nieto, called for a "redefinition of the path, characteristics, and strategy of a new development model" for the country, with measurable objectives and clearly defined goals.

In the inauguration of the Forums of Reflection Commitment for Mexico, the state leader declared the need to sink the foundation of an effective, modern, and democratic state, which in practice guarantees the individual and social rights of Mexicans.

The governor, a priísta, called for taking advantage of "the invaluable opportunity" that 2010 represents in constructing a vision of the country, "that brings us all together, that avoids social polarization and institutional paralysis".

Along with the leaders of the legislative and judicial branches [of Mexico State], Ernesto Némer Álvarez and Baruch Delgado Carbajal, respectively, Peña Nieto added: "We want to reevaluate politics starting from the results, so that society once more trusts in its institutions".

Perhaps Going Overboard

Luis Figo on Lionel Messi:
Without a doubt for me watching Messi play football is a pleasure, it's like having an orgasm. It's an incredible pleasure.

Sports You Didn't Know Mexico Played

David Agren on Mexico's recent performance in the second-division hockey championships:
The Mexican power play was sputtering badly one evening last week during a round-robin game against Australia in a chilly rink with sloppy ice in this industrial suburb of Mexico City.

Then, a tipped shot put the host country on the scoreboard, and the home crowd erupted as the players celebrated on the ice and the Mexican Hat Dance blared from the sound system.

Welcome to hockey night in Mexico, where a country with barely a dozen rinks, many of them in poor repair, is hosting a world championship for six of the teams occupying the lower rungs of the sport's hierarchy.

The teams -- Mexico, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain and Turkey -- are here in a quixotic quest for international hockey glory. The winner advances to Division I, just one rung below the division that includes such powers as Canada, Russia and Sweden.

Unsettling News for Barça Fans

It's hard to imagine that travelling 24 hours by road and not arriving until the day before the game won't lead to a more sluggish squad in Italy today. Of course, Inter's been on a downswing, and Barca's got this guy, so maybe everything is OK:

Questioning the Growth Projections

Rogelio Ramírez de la O is less than credulous about the optimistic economic numbers coming from Los Pinos:
The main reason to doubt any significant growth is that there is no internal demand to sustain it. Although it's true that external demand has improved, above all because of the rebound of automotive sales in the United States, exports are only 30 percent of the economy and furthermore include areas like tourism, which is plummeting. Or remittances, which will probably remain very weak.

The lack of demand has its origins in the employment crash of 2009. Although IMSS has revealed positive numbers in the first quarter, in reality wider official indicators reveal that the situation is urgent.
Another reason to doubt any significant growth for those of us who aren't practicing economists is that Calderón and co. have been overly optimistic about the economy at every step for the past two years.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Testing Week

Mexico has its annual Enlace test, which measures grade school progress, this week, which occasioned a critical piece on the front of Excélsior this morning. The gist was that over the course of four years and a little more than $30 million, and Mexico's kids haven't improved their scores. More specifically, the SEP doesn't publish scores until the following year (which limits the time for possible corrections), nor does it link poor scores to changes in the classroom.

Also, Calderón gave an Enlace pep talk in Mexico City, at the beginning of which he asked the kids present if they were ready for the exam, and they yelled back, "Noooooo!" He responded, "Pues ni modo", or something like, "Well, too bad", although more resigned and less obnoxious.

More PRI Leads

According to polling from Milenio, in addition to the favorable races in Veracruz and Chihuahua, the PRI also has a substantial lead in the Mérida mayoral race: priísta Angélica Araujo has a 46-24 advantage over panista Beatriz Zavala.

The PRI's cushion is significantly smaller cushion in Oaxaca. Eviel Pérez has a 44.3 to 39.8 lead over Gabino Cué, who is carrying both the PAN and the PRD banner.

PAN Popularity

According to new polls from Excélsior, the Calderón family remains the source of the most popular panistas, with Margarita Zavala coming in first place, and her husband Felipe following in third. (Gustavo Madero was sandwiched between them.) Two of the three least popular were Vicente Fox and Santiago Creel, which doesn't bode well for the former's presidential prospects.

As long as we're on Creel and Fox, the former president joined his former interior minister in calling for the possible legalization of marijuana this weekend.

A Little More on the Scherer-Zambada Interview

Here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Grover Norquist's Newest Potential Pool of Support

A local deputy in Morelia is asking the Secretariat of Foreign Relations to send a diplomatic complaint to the US about a 1 percent tax applied to cross-border cash transfers (which comes in addition to the ten percent that the institution often charges), which are vital to the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of Michoacán families with relatives who send remittances. Evidently, Kansas is considering doubling the size of this tax to 2 percent, further angering those dependent on remittances.

Of course, the tax is very small relative to the bank fees, so anger about the tax is misplaced. And if Mexican lawmakers are going to start worry about exploitive bank fees, they should start a little closer to home.

Campaigns Kick Off

The Chihuahua campaign mentioned earlier this week has kicked off officially on Saturday at 12:01 a.m., with the PAN candidate Carlos Marcelino Borruel offering a glimpse at would seem the logical approach to defeating an incumbent party in the country's most violent state: security, security, security. Borruel promised to do away with extortion and kidnapping in Juárez, which is something that will not be in his power to do even if he wins, but is heartening in that it shows a recognition of crime-fighting priorities. Not that the government should be ignoring drug traffickers, but extortion and kidnapping harm regular citizens in a way that smugglers do not. As such, organized crime groups that employ extortion and kidnapping should be a higher priority for security agencies than criminal groups that do not (all other activities being equal), and the government should make it known that they are a higher priority. Such a change of emphasis would result in more extorters and kidnappers behind bars, and would also encourage drug traffickers to respect the (for lack of a better word) neutrality of regular citizens.

Reactions to Renaut

Here's the intro to Macario Schettino's column on Friday:
The cellular telephone registry is a clear example of why we can't move beyond mediocrity. Before a poorly explained problem, a haphazard law was created, which half of those affected never took care, until time began to run out. Even with that, a third decided not to abide by it, while the businesses involved sought all type of loopholes to avoid its fulfillment. When the [registration] period ended, the businesses don't apply the law, and the authorities are neither able nor do they want to oblige them to do so. Great: when we have a problem, we want to resolve it with laws, we make them poorly, and then we don't want to enforce them.
Leo Zuckermann, in contrast, placed blame on those who ignored the requirement to register their phone:
Everything indicates that the great majority of cell phone users registered their cell on time and correctly. According to Cofetel, 70 percent of those phones were registered in Renaut:
58.3 million numbers. Twelve million that registered at the last minute still have to be processed.

Nevertheless, there is a minority of users who, unfortunately, don't behave properly with of a process that trusts in them and that therefore will make life easier.

To start, there are the lazy citizens who aren't willing to "waste" two minutes of their time to register their cell. That's just too much.

[Break]

Maybe it's true that Renaut won't function at all. But some of the blame must be laid at the feet of those irresponsible users that lied [about their name] or refused to go through with a fast and simple process.
Zuckermann's frustration is perhaps valid, but slamming the public is a questionable use of time and column space, because you can't elect a new citizenry. You practice politics with the voters you have, not the voters you might like, to paraphrase Rummy. The politicians, however, can be held accountable, and, though it doesn't require a superhuman effort from cell phone users, it's not clear that this registry will make life any more difficult for cell phone extortionists.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Painting the Town Red

We are now at slightly more than 100 days into the new mayoral administration of Eduardo Olmos in Torreón, and the change in government has not been kind to the city. The police have basically disappeared (though only temporarily), private security expenditures have risen by an estimated 80 percent, and the city has witnessed the most unquestionable example of narco-terrorism in Mexico since the 2008 attacks in Morelia (though inexplicably, there has been basically no attention paid to the episode). The quarterly homicide numbers are similarly damning: 92 people were killed in Torreón, which gives the city an annualized murder rate of close to 70 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Amid all that, Olmos' most visible accomplishment has been to paint portions of city property bright red. Aesthetically, it's a questionable move, because the city doesn't own enough property for the paint jobs to give Torreón a coherent feel; it's more like random patches of bright red jumping out at you every five or ten minutes as you drive around, sticking out like a garish tattoo on an otherwise unremarkable body. But, considering the above litany of security woes, it's even more bizarre for anyone who has seen High Plains Drifter. Are we next going to rename the town "Infierno"?

Friday, April 16, 2010

A New Theater of Operations for Mexican Gangs

It's Egypt, where a Mexican was caught with a cocaine-processing lab. Mexicans in West Africa is nothing new, but I believe this is the first time we've seen Mexican gangs operating that far east.

There Needs to Be Less of These Reports

Ten Federal Police troops have been arrested in Juárez for extorting protection payments from local businessmen. This is awful and probably not particularly uncommon stuff. The officers were arrested after being denounced by the locals from whom they'd been extracting the cash, which serves as an obvious example of the importance of the cooperation of the civilian population in improving security. One thing I've heard from people who've been wronged by police is that they fear making an official complaint, because it would make them a target for retaliation, and they have little confidence it would bear any fruit. I'm not sure if publicizing more of this sort of news would allay those fears, but the government should always be encouraging more participation from citizens.

The Reform to Come

The political reform proposed by Calderón with great pomp in December grows smaller by the day: Excélsior reports that the only issues on the table are the citizen initiatives, the structure of budget (presumably of political parties, though it doesn't specify), a mechanism for referenda, the process for replacing presidents, and the party system (a label that is unhelpfully a broad in this case). Other proposals --reelection, the second round of presidential voting, a smaller Congress-- will have to wait until the legislative period starting in September to be considered.

This Has to Be a Lie

According to in-house user satisfaction surveys, 70 percent of IMSS patients are happy with the service they receive, and 85 percent said that they would recommend the institution to family or friends. Personally, I have never walked out of the IMSS without feeling bathed with that horrifying combination of impotence and anger that one might experience after being wrongly tossed from a bar with great force by a handful of 250-pound bouncers. Anecdotal evidence (read: every single person I have ever discussed IMSS with) suggests that I'm not in the minority.

The typical IMSS experience implies the following: taking off work and waking up early to get in line an hour or two before the window/clinic/doctor you require opens; standing the entire time, because waiting rooms don't have enough or even any chairs; after a several-hour wait, being talked down to and denied whatever meager petition you sought. The average trip to IMSS is like your worst DMV nightmare on steroids. If 70 percent of people walk out of IMSS happy with the institution, then W is the most popular president in US history.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Another Duarte, Another PRI Whitewash in the Offing

Yesterday we mentioned Javier Duarte's twenty-point lead in Veracruz; today, it's César Duarte's huge lead in Chihuahua over the PAN's Carlos Borruel, by a margin of 46 to 26.

I'd be interested to see a political scientist pick apart the PRI's deep reservoirs of support in Chihuahua. The PRI's José Reyes Baeza has controlled the state house since 2004. Priísta José Reyes Estrada Ferriz has run Juárez since 2007. During that time, of course, Chihuahua in general and Juárez in particular have gone from being another perennially tense though not particularly violent part of the border to being among the bloodiest political entities on the globe. Given that context, wouldn't you expect the reaction against the incumbent party to be a bit more severe? I don't think you can just point to the local PAN's hopelessness to explain; Chihuahua was one of the first regions where the PAN was the PRI's equal, and even though it has slipped since the 1980s, the PAN remains a significant force in the state. So, assuming this poll is legit, why is the PRI so far ahead? Does the steadfast support for the PRI mean that voters blame Calderón for the region's security woes, or do they make their votes based more on the president's performance on economic matters? It's a head-scratcher.

Immigration not in the Cards

Reaffirming what Gancho has long believed, Chris Beam says that there will be no immigration reform this year, which is to say, in Obama's first two years:
The biggest problem is the calendar. Right after stepping off the campaign trail, Reid said that the Senate will not be tackling immigration reform during this work period, which extends through the end of May. Instead, they'll be tackling jobs bills, food-safety legislation, financial regulatory reform, and a bill that would address campaign finance and the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. That leaves June and July for the Supreme Court nomination, an energy bill (which seems to keep slipping down the list), and whatever priorities they didn't manage to address in the spring. Congress takes August off, and after that the members will be campaigning.

In Favor

Santiago Creel came out in favor of the open legalization of marijuana. Now, I really want him to be the PAN's presidential nominee.

Questions about Definitions

Good question from Malcolm Beith in the wake of the new narco-murder numbers:
What constitutes a drug-related homicide, and how the government decides how to classify it? As one Sinaloan human rights activist likes to complain, investigators in Mexico tend to ask what the victim did wrong, and then close the case on that information alone. So, say young Jose gets shot, the investigators ask "did he hang out with any ne'er do wells" (yes, i did use that word) and if the answer is yes, well, it's a drug-related homicide. Never mind the fact that Jose might have just got caught in the crossfire, might have slept with the wrong woman (his friend's girl?) or robbed a liquor store and gotten paid back for his misdemeanor. A gomero in the hills gets shot or macheted to death? These days it's drug-related, even if it was actually the result of an age-old land dispute. Or whatever.
I've wondered about this as well. There's no dictionary definition of what constitutes a narco-murder, and it's not hard to conceive of potential gray areas. You can also easily imagine how, with the climate of the government fighting organized crime growing more and more intense, it would naturally encourage an a looser classification of murders as drug-related. At the same time, you'd think that the government would fight that tendency and actively adopt stricter criteria, so as to lower the number of drug-related murders and demonstrate that their policies are working. In any event, there's been rather little commentary as to how one defines organized crime and murders related to it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Another Look

Members of Calderón's national security cabinet told a group of senators earlier this week that it is willing to revise the role of the military fuero, as the exemption from civilian prosecution is called. Defense Secretary Guillermo Galván, who is a general, said that allowing soldiers to be prosecuted by a civilian court would be a "tough blow" for the armed forces, which was a predictable reaction. Even if that's not on the table, there are other ways that the government can increase the civilian oversight of military courts. It should be more aggressive in exploring these, as the military's ability to police and punish its own has been proven utterly insufficient.

Galván also said that any attempt to regulate the army's role in domestic security should be coupled with a new national police model. That's very true. Keeping closer tabs on the army is a great idea, but replacing it with police forces that are more prone to abuses doesn't make things any better.

Arrest that Man

Carlos Loret, running down the recent highlights from Mauricio Fernández, makes the case that he belongs in prison:
[I]n a period of nine months, public opinion registered four examples accompanied by important declarations from the voice of San Pedro's mayor that confirm that he partnered with a drug cartel, that he protected one of the drug traffickers with the greatest significance in the contemporary history of Mexico, whose operators handed turned over management of the local police so that they combated rival criminals, in exchange for, form the get-go, allowing his men to live there without any problems.

With less evidence than this, on May 26, 2009, the PGR arrested and jailed 12 mayors from Michoacán, seven of whom remain jailed...

Polls, Polls

The PRI's run of electoral dominance seems destined to continue in the Veracruz governor's race, as its candidate, Javier Duarte, enjoys a nearly 24-point advantage over the PAN's Miguel Ángel Yunes. That would seem to be all but insurmountable, even four months out.

As long as we're on polls, Felipe Calderón's approval ratings have begun to bounce back in Mitofsky's survey, up to 56 percent in March. The president's low-ball number came in January, when he registered 52 percent approval.

Crime Numbers

According to a classified document prepared by the federal government, 9,635 people died in Mexico due in killings linked to organized crime. That's significantly higher than the 7,000 and change that was being reported publicly toward the end of last year. The same document says that 3,365 people were killed in the first quarter of 2010, which of course represents a further acceleration of the violence.

Claiming Responsibility

A group calling itself Total Human, Animal, and Earth Liberation has claimed responsibility for an explosion at a Mexico City branch of Banamex yesterday. No one was hurt in the attack. The group is demanding the release of comrades detained for other bombings, such as that of the Mexican embassy in Chile.

Good News

Mexican exports to the US shot up by 32.6 percent in February compared with the same month in 2009. This is a logical rebound to normalcy given the plummeting figures last year, but analysts also say that it reflects a recovery of market share from Mexican auto parts and electronics firms displaced by Chinese competitors.

Enemy of the State

By an unusually wide margin (372-0), the Chamber of Deputies has voted to ban the sale of junk food in schools. It has to go before the Senate, where food giants are now concentrating their lobbying efforts, but assuming this ends up getting passed, good news. The food in Mexican schools is like the candy and chips aisle at a 7-11: absolute crap.

Surprising Support

Vicente Fox has come out in favor of the electoral alliances with the PRD, a bit surprising since he has consistently been critical of anything associated with Calderón's leadership of the PAN, and was always more hostile toward the PRD than the PRI. In fact, I thought I'd remembered past criticism of those pacts, but I was actually just thinking of some shots he took at César Nava for being dishonest.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Lady in Mexico

Michelle Obama has arrived in Mexico, and is set to take part in typical first-lady doings with Margarita Zavala, like visiting youths, and discussing poverty and education. That's all well and good, but don't you feel bad for presidential wives that they always have to do stuff like that on official visits? Wouldn't Obama rather that Zavala take her to, say, a bullfight, a museum, and a lonchería in Mexico City?

Update: Turns out that they did go to a museum, so that part of the above rings less true, but the rest holds up.

Mexican Humans Trafficked

The PGR released a report that says that roughly 20,000 Mexicans are annually sent against their will to Russia, Europe, and the United States, where they are often subjected to sexual exploitation upon arrival. The report fingers the Zetas as playing a big role in this practice. More than 60 percent are adult women, while children make up a third of the number. Assuming the findings are essentially valid, I'm surprised that this isn't more of a scandal. We're talking about 6,000 kids a year!

Regulating the Military's Role

The Senate is taking a look at a potentially significant change to the role of the military in domestic security. According a draft of a new bill, the army would only be able to operate in entities in which the state government requested its deployment. To trigger the deployment, the governor would then have to demonstrate that the state and municipal forces were overwhelmed by organized crime. The time frame of the army's presence would be strictly defined, and the CNDH would be more closely involved in keeping tabs on the army's operation. This seems like an improvement, though the ultimate goal for the use of the army should be zero (which would require a large and capable federal police agency, a goal that remains elusive), and one wonders whether this bill would have the unintended impact of making the Calderonian size of the military's role in domestic security a permanent feature of Mexican society.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Improving Human Rights

On Sunday Santiago Creel had a column with some understandable (though still a bit unnecessary and therefore nettlesome) auto-back-patting regarding the last week's human rights bill:
With what the Senate passed, this faculty [of investigating human rights violations, presently held by the Supreme Court] passes to the National Commission on Human Rights [CNDH], which, beyond from investigating, will be able to present criminal complaints that will be allowed to arrive at the final consequences in every case, which is to say, the fixing of concrete responsibilities, the application of penalties and something very important: it will also have to compensate the harm to victims.

Additionally, it establishes that the authorities that reject the recommendations of the CNDH must...publish the reasons for their decision and could also be called to testify before the Senate to explain their denial.

Similarly, the bill mandated the unification of the criteria so that state commissions enjoy full autonomy and their presidents are elected through a procedure of public consultation, to avoid these organizations being subordinated to the governors.
It closes with the final line:
With this reform the PAN senators return to our origins, defend our principals, and advance the political philosophy, founded in a humanist vision, whose fundamental basis is respect for the dignity of the individual.

One wonders if a Creel presidential campaign would hammer the idea that the Calderón administration was a bastardization of the PAN's traditional value base.

More from Richard.

What's Bad for Chivas...

...is actually pretty good for Mexican soccer. Congrats to Chicharito. Hopefully Hernández playing for Man U will bring about improvements in his quality --and therefore, that of el Tri-- relatively quickly, but one wonders if being parked at the end of a deep bench in England will take the edge off of Hernández's recent mojo.

Biting into Profits

A new study shows that Mexican businesses spend 10 percent of their profits on bribes, which amounts to somewhere between 7 and 9 percent of the GDP. The article linked above is very brief, but this number should be picked at a little bit. What are they spending the bribes on? Bids for contracts? Payments to the police or the local government to protect them? Regulators? How do the bribery payments vary for different types of businesses?

New Alliances

The Michoacán Family, who Malcolm Beith says is losing power in southern and central Mexico, has allied itself with the Gulf traffickers who themselves recently split from the Zetas and allied with Sinaloa. Lots of changes in the trafficking alliances in recent weeks.

More Shots at Maciel

Josefina Vázquez called Legionnaires of Christ founder Marciel Maciel a "criminal" and a "promoter of death and the destruction of truth, trust, and honesty", while also urging law-makers to punish his accomplices that remain alive. Vázquez isn't out on much of a limb with her characterization, but it's a bit surprising to see from a PAN politician. Good for her.

Defining Proper Behavior for Security Agencies

Jorge Chabat splits the difference between those who think that Mexico should continue full steam ahead in attacking organized crime and those who think it should lay off the gas:
[I]t's vital that we define and apply protocols for the use force by the agencies tasked with applying the law as well as punish the public officials who don't respect said protocols. There's no other way. The security force, as with any other government official, must be subject to rules in carrying out their job and sanctions when they don't fulfill their duty in the previously established manner. This of course touches on the sensitive topic of the military fuero [the exemption of soldiers from civilian trials]. And on this point it's clear that though the fuero has it's origins in dealing with breaches of military discipline, the application of the fuero when complaints about human rights abuses by members of the armed forces are presented does not contribute to a sense of certainty that the use of force is carried out in the appropriate manner, which delegitimizes the government's strategy of combating drug traffickers. In other words, if there is not clear demarcation of the form in which the security forces must behave in their combat against organized crime, the positions of those who think that government force shouldn't be applied because of the social cost that this application can generate will be strengthened. And that, ultimately, will derail policies of combating drug traffickers. And in such a situation the only ones who will are the criminals, not the government nor the citizens.
I take this as another argument that addressing human rights is most important for people who, like Calderón, favor a tough stance toward organized crime, for the reasons Chabat mentions, but also because a more humane security policy is going to be over the long haul objectively better at reducing crime and arresting criminals.

A Week Late

Here's an article from last week about Peña Nieto's pro-congressional majority argument. Also, here's a piece by Samuel Logan and John P. Sullivan from today about the split between the Zetas and their erstwhile backers in the Gulf.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

American Analysts on Felipe's Priorities

Via Matt Yglesias, Mark Kleiman on Mexico's drug problem:
Fighting “drugs” or “drug trafficking” is as meaningless as fighting “terror.” Real enemies have proper names. Two of the Sinaloa group’s rivals – the Gulf group and Los Zetas, which is more a private army than a drug-trafficking organization – pose comparable threats. Perhaps there are one or two more names that belong on that list. Mexican and U.S. enforcement should focus on those groups, and on the groups on the U.S. side of the border who handle their drugs, to the exclusion of every other drug trafficker in Mexico. And if Sinaloa is winning the war just now, then it ought to be at the top of the priority list. Any organization that is just dealing drugs, and isn’t shooting at cops and journalists and citizens, needs a good leaving-alone.
Kleiman admits to not studying Mexico's security issues too closely, and it shows a bit, chiefly in the fact that there are no major gangs who avoid killing cops and intimidating reporters and corrupting government officials. Also, for the past few months the report has been that Tony Tormenta's Gulf gang has been allied with Chapo. But he's absolutely right that Calderón would do well to follow a set of guidelines to determine which gang is the foremost priority rather than treating them all the same or bouncing his crosshairs haphazardly from one gang to another, a point I've made on a couple of occasions in the past few months.

Explaining Messi's Problems with Argentina

I've not seen Messi with the Argentine squad enough to have a judgment, but this seems logical:
The other point - and forgive me if this seems blindingly obvious to you, but it appears to be anything but to a large section of the Argentine press pack - is that Argentina don't play like Barcelona. When Messi gets the ball for Barcelona in the midfield area, he's typically got plenty of options: Daniel Alves, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andres Iniesta and Pedro will all be making runs ahead of him, with Xavi likely to offer a short passing option. Messi has three things in this situation: space, team-mates giving him quick (and quickly changing) options, and his own ability. Barca's high-tempo, high-pressing game is perfectly suited to getting the best out of him.

By contrast, Argentina play at a relatively sedate pace. They like to retain possession and work an opening, but there the similarity to Messi's club ends. In his country's shirt, if Messi picks the ball up in that same midfield position, he'll have support behind him from Javier Mascherano, Juan Sebastian Veron et al, and might have, say, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain ahead of him. The paucity of options high up the pitch is startling - especially for a side with as many frankly brilliant attacking players as Argentina have.

In this system, it's difficult for Messi to flourish, because his game hinges on either using the yard of space a team-mate can buy to do the unimaginable, or choosing his darting skill and passes - and he's improved in that respect immeasurably in the last two years - to help work the ball up the pitch. That passing and linking is still there when Messi plays for Argentina. It's the creative spark, born of options from team-mates, that's missing.
In the few times that I have seen them, it also seemed like Messi got less touches in general with Argentina than he does with Barça.

New Group

A decapitated body found along a highway connecting Mexico City and Acapulco had a placard attached attributing the deed to a gang called the Southern Pacific Cartel, heretofore unheard of in Mexico, at least publicly.

Another Consulate Attack

Someone tossed a homemade bomb at the US consulate in Nuevo Laredo last night, the third such attack in the past year. No one was hurt. No theories are circulating as to might have been behind the attack, but the gang that allegedly killed the employees of the Juárez consulate is not said to have a big presence in Tamaulipas.

The Future of My Cell Phone

Yesterday I registered my cell phone with Mexico's new federal database, which was the last possible day before service was to be cut off. In theory means that I'm in the clear, but I got a text message urging me to register my phone this morning, and saying that I'd been granted a 24-hour reprieve, so who knows.

According to news reports, about a third of the country's cell phone users haven't registered with the database, which means that either today or tomorrow or sometime in the near future, some 25 million cell phones are going to be cut off. That will mean 25 million very angry Mexicans, as well as (and probably more significantly for the politicians) a handful of very angry cell phone providers. The tone of a news message I received through a Telcel service earlier this week offered some indication of the companies' feeling on the matter:
Without precedent: By law [the government] will cancel a public service to more than 25 million cell phone users.

Xavi's Long-lost Brother


It occurred to me during to Barcelona's victories over Arsenal and Real Madrid this week that in addition to being a brilliant passer on the pitch, Xavi Hernández could also pass for Robert Downey, Jr. off of it. Somehow, I think Xavi's hair is more Hollywood.

Also, as always, Messi's something else.

Juárez Won?

Over the course of the past week, two dangerous, destabilizing, extra-governmental forces achieved huge wins: Duke in the NCAA and, slightly less worryingly, Chapo Guzmán in Juárez. I don't think the US has any reason to exaggerate the Chapo winning Juárez claims, so I imagine they are based on solid intelligence. But I also think throughout the past two years, the extent to which the violence in the border city was attributed to conflict between Chapo and Vicente Carrillo Fuentes was always exaggerated; much of the violence came from low-level retail dealers knocking each other off, and it remains to be seen if Chapo taking hold of the city (assuming that's correct) will be able to put a lid on the anarchy stemming from hundreds of gangs running wild. Hopefully violence will drop in Juárez, but if it doesn't, I don't think we should be all that surprised, nor should we conclude the US was wrong.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Vacation


I'm off to a place that looks this. (At least, I hope it does.) I hope everyone enjoys Chivas's destruction of América in the Clásico later this evening, as well as the five following days. I'll be back next weekend with a recharged battery and a tan.

Tamaulipas Remains Ugly

A commando team attacked a jail in Reynosa last night, a further example of Tamaulipas suffering the effects of the Zeta-Gulf split. This accompanies the steadily increasing rumble of mass deaths in shootouts, such as this one here. There's no question that Tamaulipas is heading down a potentially very difficult road. Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa, two vital border crossings, are part of the spoils, as is control of Monterrey (which is not in Tamaulipas, but is in the Zeta-Gulf zone of influence and is also in dispute), which is the nation's most important city in the North. It seems as though we are getting a sneak preview of what could be the next big area of conflict. There's no way to be sure that this can be nipped in the bud, but I'd like to know what the plan from the government is. Is there one? Are they just going to throw troops at the area in an uncoordinated and ineffectual show of force?

Reward

The PGR is offering 5 million pesos (or just under $400,000) for info leading to the arrest of the murderers of Melquisedec Angulo's family. Angulo, you may remember, was the marine who died in the shootout in which Arturo Beltrán Leyva was also killed; his family was murdered days later, after the government made his name public in the course of hailing his heroism. Of course, that was three and a half months ago, so one wonders why the PGR waited until now to offer the reward.

Big Exclusive

Julio Scherer, 84 years young on Wednesday, scored a clandestine interview with Ismael Zambada, which is on the cover of the present Proceso. I've not yet read it, but according to the excerpts in the papers, Zambada says that the war on drugs is lost, that he always lives in fear, that he was very nearly caught by the Mexican army at one point, that he and Chapo remain good friends, and that Chapo's $1 billion fortune is "nonsense", despite what Forbes would have you believe. (Here's why that last declaration doesn't shock me.)

This is probably the splashiest interview of this sort we'll see for years in Mexico, so I feel compelled to repeat the fact that Scherer is 84.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hospitals in the Middle

One of the minor subplots to Mexico's ongoing security problems is that hospitals are placed in a tough spot, often bribed/forced to deny service to one gang, turned into killing grounds while criminals are recovering from their wounds, or even, according to this AP article, targeted themselves. (Malcolm Beith takes issue with that article here.) Milenio recently ran an interview with the chief of the Red Cross in Mexico in which he reaffirmed the organization's commitment to treating everyone while trying to remain above the fray, a difficult line to walk:
In some zones of the country journalists no longer want to do reports on certain topics because of insecurity, because of threats. Have their been certain areas in which, because of the insecurity situation, the violence, the fear, the EMT's of the Red Cross say: "We're not going in until for example, the army or the detective arrives?
The Red cross is identified with its symbol, which is a symbol of neutrality, and obviously attends to the wounded immediately after a gunfight. It's not a symbol that says: "I'm going to stick myself in the crossfire". The Red Cross waits for the conflict to end so that it can attend the wounded.

We have found that in certain areas there have been cases in which some EMTs, because of fear or normal caution, haven't wanted to enter to collect the wounded. Are these isolated cases?
They are isolated cases in which they made certain first (that the confrontation had ended) before entering or leaving. The reality is that there has been great respect toward the Red Cross. There haven't been voluntary aggressions, not a single one.

Because of this war that has it been necessary to help the EMTs manage their fear and addition stress beyond their normal work?
We have psychologists that attend to the EMTs. Not only fear of the violence, but also of the grind of seeing two, three people in accidents, injured on a daily basis...many people die in their arms. It's a very traumatic situation.

Back to Texas

The University of Texas has pulled exchange students studying at the Tec de Monterrey back from Mexico, because of fears about drug-related violence. The students' welfare isn't my responsibility, and Nuevo León has seen a spike in violence in recent weeks (and the Golf-Zetas split makes further violence in the area more likely), so I can't really judge the people making the decision, though it probably wouldn't be mine.