Monday, May 31, 2010

Abstention Predictions

Analysts predict that between 30 and 50 percent of the eligible population in Mexico will vote in July. The article names violence as a reason why, which is a bit odd because organized crime hasn't shown as much interest in interrupting the democratic process as it has in corrupting it (although a couple of bodies were tossed near a voting booth here in Torreón last year, so election-day violence is not entirely unheard of). Obviously, that's a big range, but given recent rates of abstention, 30 percent is probably closer to the mark, which is unfortunate.

Measuring Progress in Juárez

It's been 100 days since the We Are All Juárez program was initiated, and the federal government is publicizing its results on 160 different points of action. I've not read a detailed rundown of it all, but in a nutshell, the government seems to be saying that violence is slightly down, the government is behind schedule but struggling along on other issues, and that it has spent roughly $250 million in the city since the program was initiated.

Greg Polling

An Excélsior poll shows that most of the populace thinks that Gregorio Sánchez is guilty, which wasn't the case a decade ago with Mario Villanueva. It makes you wonder whether the difference is explained by greater cynicism on the part of the public, Villanueva's relative popularity, or the latter doing a better job in refuting the case.

Leo Zuckermann argued rather convincingly last week that the shame is that, after the Michoacán debacle from last year, it's hard for an outsider to know what to believe:
The other problem is that the PGR during this term has detained officials that supposedly had links to organized crime and that, months later, were exonerated. That's what happened with mayors and former officials in the government of Michoacán that last May, just ahead of the federal elections, were detained by the PGR for alleged links with the Michoacán Family.

They were politicians from every party, but above all from the PRD because Michoacán is a majority perredista entity. The accused never even got an apology. I don't know if they were guilty or not. The fact is that they were liberated because the PGR couldn't prove their case.

It is, absolutely, a shameful moment for the Federal Public Ministry. An act that makes us doubt the present accusations against a candidate for governor from the left in Quintana Roo, Gregorio Sánchez.

That has to be balanced by the fact that this isn't the first time that they've tried to unfairly get Sánchez out of an electoral contest. The PRI political apparatus approved in 2008 a local constitutional reform to avoid his participation. They increased the number of years a non-native resident needed to be governor. This year the Supreme Court declared the reform unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, Sánchez finds himself very far back in the pre-electoral polls that have been published. It would seem that his adversaries don't have the objective tools to drive him from the race. Much less would the federal government be afraid that Greg (as he is colloquially known) could win and acquire a constitutional fuero, which would greatly complicate his judicial process.

In summary, there is evidence that makes us think that the accusation that Sánchez is involved in drug-trafficking, and there is evidence that make us doubt that. What a mess.

The Greatest Crime in the Modern History of Mexico

Adolfo Bautista is going to the World Cup.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Politicians as Pugilists

Sounding not unlike a confident boxer predicting a second-round knockout during the weigh-in, PRI leaders Emilio Gamboa and Beatriz Paredes both predicted a clean sweep in the 12 gubernatorial races this July. César Nava responded with following rejoinder: "We'll see on July 5th". I read rather than listened to Nava's comments so it's hard to guess if there was fear in his voice, but that sounds roughly in line with what you'd expect from the no-hope challenger coming to collect a paycheck and hoping to acquit himself adequately, but without any expectation of winning. He also predicted that Xóchitl Galvez would be in the lead in Hidalgo within 15 days.

In other polling news, Mitofsky says that the PRI candidate is up eight points over his PAN/PRD opponent, which is a four-point shift in the PRI's direction since the previous poll.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Shocking That This Guy's Dirty

The harbormaster in Manzanillo, where 80 tons of ephedrine have been discovered on two different occasions in recent weeks, was arrested on Thursday for links with organized crime.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Another (Small) Step toward a Socially Liberal Mexico

The use of the morning-after pill in cases of rape has been deemed legal by the Supreme Court, by a vote of 11-1. From what I gather, use in cases of consensual sex was not under consideration, but the pill is neither explicitly illegal nor widely available.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Chihuahua Tighter, Puebla the Same

Milenio's May polling for the Chihuahua governorship shows that the PRI's lead shrank from 20 points in April to ten in May, with just below 42 percent saying that they'd vote for César Duarte if the election was tomorrow. Of course, that leaves about a quarter who have yet to make up their mind or are voting for one of the also-rans.

In Puebla, the PRI lead from April to May is unchanged: 9.1 points. However, both candidates advanced by about 11 points, which means the undecided slice of the pie is much, much smaller.

Mérida Money

As long as we're on the topic, here's a graphic from the AP of the Mérida disbursements through May. It's not quite as clear as it could be (for instance, what does the $5 million chunk that says "police, soldiers, etc" mean), but it does clearly demonstrate that what was to have been a $1.4 billion package has barely amounted to 10 percent that amount. I'd also like to see a graphic like this about the proposed spending under the Mérida Reloaded plan. As far as I know, all that's been made public is the promise to shift focus.

In other Mérida news, I read at some point that the name of the plan might change. (Sorry, can't find a link.) I'd like to propose the Cancún Concord as the new moniker.

Rough Day for Mexico

Mexico struggled to a 2-1 loss to Holland yesterday, with a pair of first-half goals from a seemingly recovered Robin van Persie opening the scoring, before a header from Javier Hernández halved the lead in the second. (Incidentally, we already knew this, but Hernández has some impressive leaping ability.) The loss led to the following explosion from José Ramón Fernández, one of Mexico's most famous sports commentators:
[Fernández] said that the political problems through which Mexico is passing "are a laugh" next to the power that the national team has, and added that the government must lay the groundwork for a loyal competition in Mexican football and, in general, in the communication outlets.


[The networks use] impressive marketing manipulation to make money. If told you what has come out of Cablevison, of Sky, it's all boatloads, boatloads and boatloads of money, because the sponsor and the advertiser think that Mexico, essentially that's what the directors of the networks make them think, that Mexico will make it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
He went on to say that Azteca and Televisa have "kidnapped" Mexican soccer, and also referred to Mexican soccer as a disaster. Obviously this is all rather hyperbolic, but even removing the hyperbole, I don't understand the complaint about the networks (which is favorite complaint of Fernández and others). Of course they tend to inflate Mexico's chances. What's unethical about that? And what's the connection between the networks' meddling and the performance on the field? OK, so Televisa boss Emilio Azcárraga's opinion carries too much weight. That's unseemly, but is that why Mexico hasn't had a reliable forward since Borgetti's star dimmed? Is the theory that Televisa and TV Azteca are not allowing the players to develop properly?

More generally, Mexico suffers from a willful rather than realistic pessimism regarding its soccer team. They lost but held their own in a pair of games against odds-makers' third- and fifth-most likely World Cup winners. That's about the best a second-tier team like Mexico can realistically expect. Brazil and Spain can expect to walk into Wembley and outplay England for 90 minutes, but no one else in the world can. Losing to England and Holland wasn't exactly the fulfillment of the inevitable, but nor was it a surprise. I don't quite understand the hysteria. Worry when Mexico loses to Senegal, or Uruguay.

Another Round

The second, less militaristic round of Mérida spending is set to be announced later today:
The government of Barack Obama will propose this Thursday before the American Congress modifications to the Mérida Initiative to allocate more anti-drug resources to the eradication of police, judicial, and political corruption, instead of using it on military airplanes.
Sounds great! Now let's see it.

Would-Be Mario Villanueva

The PRD candidate for the governor's post in Quintana Roo, Greg Sánchez, was arrested by the PGR earlier this week for suspected involvement with money laundering and, as we learned today, murder. The PGR says that Sánchez was interrogated earlier this month, and his declaration of income was about a million dollars short of what the authorities say he withdrew from bank accounts. Jesús Ortega immediately compared the arrest to the detentions of dozens of public figures (many of them perredistas) in Michoacán last May, which is a logical comparison for him to make, although one would think that even if you believe the michoacanazo was entirely a political operation, the electoral alliances between the PAN and the PRD this year would discourage a repeat. Then again, the PGR is run Arturo Chávez Chávez, who is said to be close to Fernando Gómez Mont, who had a famously unflattering opinion of the PRD alliances. In any event, the PRD knew that Sánchez was under investigation in January, before he was selected as the candidate. Since even under these circumstances the PRD allowed him to run, that makes you suspect that either Ortega and other party leaders made a horrible decision, or that PGR investigations into potential candidates are so frequent that no one sees it as a disqualifying characteristic. Hopefully it's the former.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Story of the Day

The Obama administration is sending 1,200 troops to the Mexican border:
President Obama will send up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the Southwest border and seek increased spending on law enforcement there to combat drug smuggling after demands from Republican and Democratic lawmakers that border security be tightened.


The troops will join a few hundred members of the Guard already assigned there to help the police hunt for drug smugglers. The additional troops will provide support to law enforcement officers by helping observe and monitor traffic between official border crossings. They will also help analyze trafficking patterns in the hope of intercepting illegal drug shipments.
More here from Greg Weeks. Boz raises some important concerns, too:
Nobody should mistake action for strategy. I hope Congress asks questions like these and the administration better defines why these troops are going and how they are going to improve the situation on the ground. Otherwise, it's all just a show that isn't making any progress.
You certainly get the sense that this stems from the desire to appear to do something rather than a well thought out strategy to address the ill effects of the drug trade. I also think it's interesting the way the article and some of the people quoted in it (namely Jan Brewer) jump back and forth between drug violence and illegal immigration as though they were one and the same.

Story of Yesterday

El Universal had an interesting story yesterday about a meeting between members of organized crime and a handful of insurance execs:
On May 12 an unknown individual who introduced himself as a member of the Gulf Cartel met in Tampico, Tamaulipas with representatives of 11 insurance companies with offices in Monterrey. The motive was to present a new work plan that "benefits all of us".

The individual explained: "It's going to reduce your costs a great deal and your bosses should understand that we are doing it for the good of your company".

The scheme that he presented consisted in the businesses paying half a million pesos in exchange for "not being bothered". Every 30 days it would be up to a different insurer to make "the contribution".

"If someone says no, as a punishment I'm going to cause a daily loss during one year, and they are going to have to pay. One daily, from 5,000 to 10,000 [pesos], and I mean daily, until a year is up, and ultimately it'll cost 3 million", he warned.
Some of the most well known companies in Mexico, such as Bancomer, GNP, and Banorte, were at the meeting. No explicit word on whether or not they paid, but the article implies that they did not. This seems to be the rare example of a Mexican publication not named Proceso breaking a crime story on their own, which is to say, without the aid of a government press release.

Here was the same newspaper's editorial the same day:
In these regions where violence seems to be out of control, perfectly located areas, there are various activities that can't be carried out in freedom. It is increasingly difficult to function as a local politician, police officer, journalist, car salesman, contractor, even an insurance salesman. This is more than a simple "atmosphere" of insecurity, the fall of the state where the authority should be exercised by representation and not by the thug who has the most guns.

In these no man's lands not everything is chaos to the bone. There are organizations dedicated to controlling the masses so as to protect their private interests. There are the characters who grind down public life, the anti-heroes of the state, those who the officials tasked with defending us haven't been able to stop. The most dangerous in terms of social cost. Because it's not just the head of a cartel that threatens citizens' security, but also the mid-level commands and the "foot soldiers" of crime, whose principal activity is extortion, kidnapping, and killing. This ground floor of crime has wiped away the social fabric, the liberty of common people, but it's also crime's most vulnerable point.
The editorial goes on to compare these low-level, high-impact criminals to Achilles, and argue that the government's strategy should aim to balance the assaults on the Chapo's of the world with attempts to dismantle less notorious, less wealthy criminals whose activities more directly make life miserable for the average citizen. If that wasn't necessarily obvious in 2006, I'd say it certainly is now.

All of this is a good argument for two basic policy guidelines in Mexico: one, say what you need to about Calderón's missteps, an aggressive approach to crime is needed in any area where kidnapping and extortion are prevalent. (It's possible that a more lax approach to drug seizures would allow today's extortion artists and kidnappers to leave their present trades in favor of a suddenly more profitable, less stressful existence running drugs, but it seems more likely that they'll continue doing both.) Extortion and kidnapping are evils that also act as significant disincentives against entrepreneurialism and, consequently, economic success generally (why open a business if you think there's a good chance that as soon as it takes off, someone will demand that you start kicking protection money his way?), and are, as such, major impediments to a thriving society.

Second, this is another illustration of why Mexican policy-makers would do well to articulate and enforce a hierarchy for criminal activities. Demonstrating that a drug gang that extorts and kidnaps will draw a much more significant and determined share of law enforcement's attention than a drug gang that just deals with drugs would encourage criminals to abandon the sorts of activities that most impact the society at large.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Heads Rolling

Alberto Bazbaz, the Mexico State attorney general who has earned ridicule for his office's horrible handling of the Paulette Gebara case, has resigned.

More here on Paulette.

Calderón on Corruption

Here's Calderón speaking about the impact of corruption on the 2008 judicial reform:
The penal reform that institutes oral trials in Mexico is almost two years from its passage, and according to President Felipe Calderón it will be useless if there continues to be corruption in the ministerial, police, and judicial agencies and justice belongs to the highest bidder.
I couldn't agree more, and actually I wrote as much at the time of its passage:
It doesn’t really matter how perfect the legal framework is (it could be designed by a dream team of civil libertarians, security experts, and democratic theorists dead and alive); if the people implementing it are corrupt any reform will be dead on arrival.

The police are in a unique position to undermine any government initiative that has to do with law and order, from the Mérida Initiative to the judicial reform bill. Any security-related reform effort must start with measures to clean up the police: internal affairs departments, frequent and random drug and polygraph testing for cops, hotlines for citizens exploited by the police, and mandatory discipline for cops who are caught misbehaving.
Apologies for engaging in that somewhat annoying habit of singing, Mr. President agrees with me! But he does. Which, given Calderón's recent propensity for wrongness, doesn't necessarily mean points in my favor, although in this case I think it does, and in any event that's a story for another post.

Calderón also hammered state governments for not doing their part, pointing out that only seven states have begun to implement the reform. I'm not sure why that is, but assuming it's true, that is indeed pretty pathetic.

At Long Last: A PAN Lead

The PAN candidate for governor in Tlaxcala, Adriana Dávila, has opened up 0.7 point lead over her PRI opponent, well within the margin for error (and therefore still a statistical tie), yet it's the first lead of any sort that I've seen in any of the governors races this summer.

Other People Unsettled by the Handling of the Paulette Case

César Nava, Fernando Gómez Mont, and the girl's mother, Lizette Farah. Of course, you could see electoral motives for the politicians' objections, but from a purely cynical, self-interested standpoint, what does Farah have to gain? Most of the country thought she was somehow involved in her daughter's death, and the official explanation absolves her.

More on Calderón's Visit

Here's Jorge Chabat:
The problem appears when we have to take action in our own country. If it's about generating jobs so that so many Mexicans don't migrate northward, then things get more complicated. For that you have to pass reforms that make the Mexican economy competitive on a global level so as to attract investment. And that's where feathers start getting ruffled. How can we apply taxes to the rich, if they're the ones who support the politicians? How can we start taxing the informal economy, if that's where the votes and the hidden support comes from? How can we make the government more efficient and reduce the privileges of the federal bureaucracy, the legislative branch, the justices of the Court, the IFE officials, the governors and their cohort of sycophants. Whoa, what's that all about...? We're just hanging out. The Americans should give more work to Mexicans, that's what there here for. After all, they have to pay for the sin of having robbed half of Mexican territory in the 19th century. And if they want to start giving a monthly payment to every Mexican, we'll accept. With pride, of course, but we'll accept.


It isn't strange that the entire political class of the country has enthusiastically supported the demanding speech of the Mexican president in Washington. After all, asking doesn't cost anything, and the US is still the best scapegoat for all that goes wrong in this country. The only problem with Calderón's speech is that it won't change reality. Immigration reform will remain un-passed until the internal conditions in the US change, and when that happens, it won't be the whole enchilada and hundreds of thousands of Mexicans will continue emigrating northward until the Mexican economy offers sufficient jobs. Similarly, guns will continue being sold in the US and they will cross the Mexican border until they arrive at Tepito, with the Mexican government powerless to do anything about it and drug-traffickers will continue controlling the country until we have security institutions that work. Meanwhile, of course, we will continue blaming the US for what we haven't wanted or been able to do in our country.

Reading this makes me wonder if there would be a way to peg amnesty for immigrants in the US to the Mexican economy producing 1 million jobs per year (or some other measure or combination of measures indicating a substantial lessening of the migratory pressures). There's a lot of reasons why this would be unfeasible politically (and it would also have to take more than one nation into consideration to be anything like a comprehensive solution), but it would have the benefit of reassuring the Americans who don't want to pass an amnesty only to face the same situation 10 or 15 years down the line, and it would be a powerful motivator for Mexican politicians, because their constituents would say, All we need is for you guys to get your act together, and my cousin/uncle/niece/girlfriend will be able to live legally in the US. So get your act together!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Chink in the Electoral Armor

(At the risk of turning a tragedy into an occasion for crude electoral speculation...) David Agren points out in comments that the Paulette case is really undermining Enrique Peña Nieto's popularity. Indeed, a new poll shows that 45 percent of the electorate views him more negatively today as a result of the case, a number that suggests that his cakewalk to the presidency just got a lot less cakey. And, insofar as Peña Nieto's government handled the thing horribly, rightly so.

Update: David deals with the same subject at greater depth here.

Polling the PRI's Resurgence

Excélsior talked to voters about the victory for the PRI in the Yucatán elections, and found that despite the party's good fortune, negative opinions of it continue to grow. Fifty-two percent of the party's respondents said that the PRI hasn't changed and that it is winning because of other parties' errors, en eleven-point jump since the PRI won local elections in Guerrero in 2008. During the same time period, the percentage of people who think that the PRI has renovated itself has dropped from 50 to 41 percent. Asked about the PAN's inability to win, 69 percent pointed to disappointment with Calderón as the most important reason.

On the Arizona Law

It took me a little while, but here's an article on it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Creepiest, Saddest Story of the Year

I've not written anything about the case of Paulette Gebara, the four-year-old girl outside of Mexico City who died under very mysterious circumstances two months ago and then was the biggest story in the country for a couple of weeks, basically because it seems that those kinds of stories, much like Dennis Rodman in his day, grow worse with attention and can be ignored without any danger to the general level of intelligence and awareness of the individual and population alike. But the presentation of the official investigation's conclusions --that she smothered herself-- is an insult from the Mexico State government to all of us with functioning brains.

To briefly recap, Paulette disappeared in March, the police came and searched the house, both parents acted really oddly (especially the mom), the police came back to recreate the scene of the night of her disappearance, found Paulette's body in "an opening between the base of the bed, the floor, and the mattress", detained and interrogated the parents and the girl's nannies, made public no conclusions, sat on the story for six weeks, and then on Friday suddenly announced that she had smothered herself. This should be in a textbook about how a government can earn the scorn and distrust of its constituents. Freak things do happen in life, and if you told me that a young, developmentally challenged girl (which Paulette was) had fallen awkwardly in her sleep and suffocated, I wouldn't necessarily think you were full of it. However, given that the government waited so long, that the police could conduct a search of the house and miss the body of the girl they were looking for in her own bedroom, that both parents could behave so oddly in interviews (the mother's emotions, which appeared utterly incongruent with the circumstances, were especially remarkable), and that Paulette Gebara's father reportedly has connections to Mexico State governor Enrique Peña Nieto's political operation, you'd have to be as credulous as a first-grader not to smell a rat. This feels like one of the cases (say, the assassination of José Francisco Ruiz Massiueu) that you read about in Mexican history books, content in the knowledge that such episodes are a thing of the past. Except, as we see, when they aren't.

Malcolm Beith wrote that "[i]f Pena Nieto runs [for president], the 4-year-old corpse of Paulette should be pictured alongside every cheery photo op he ever does". With Peña Nieto endorsing the investigation, it's hard to argue with that sentiment. Because the story broke the boundary between a strictly political and a mainstream news story, it also seems like something that could significantly eat into his popularity.

Triumphs in Mexican Film-Making

This Nike ad, directed by Amores Perros' Alejandro González Iñárritu, is lots of fun. I especially like Rooney's nightmarish hillbilly future, as well as the suggestion (presumably based on real life) that Cristiano Ronaldo thinks of giant statues of himself being unveiled just before free kicks. However, Ronaldinho's exclusion from the World Cup kind of ruins that portion of the commercial; I wonder if they could superimpose Fabiano's face on his.

Also, an Australian-Mexican (not sure if he's more one than the other) named Michael Rowe won the prize in Cannes for best first film with a movie called Leap Year.

Tears in Torreón

After 120 minutes of (surprisingly action-packed) scoreless soccer earlier this afternoon, Santos and Toluca went to penalty kicks to decide the Mexican league final. Santos leapt to a 3-1 lead, and only needed one more goal to win it. They missed their three successive tries (including one from longtime favorite Matías Vuoso, who also missed a basically empty net in the final moments of overtime, and who may need to be moved this offseason), while Toluca rallied to take it 4-3.

Previously, every huge win (be it in the final in 2008 or to save the team from relegation in 2007) has led to something just short of generalized rioting in Torreón, rife with good-natured though still slightly unsettling mayhem. This is the first time since I've been here that Santos has lost in a final, but I can only hope it's not like when they win, minus the adjective "good-natured".

Still No Word on Diego

No news of the ex-candidate's whereabouts, but his family has asked the authorities to step aside and allow the family to negotiate, which makes you think that the kidnappers may have made contact.

In related news, Milenio reported earlier this week that the Senate was reacting to the kidnapping by calling an extraordinary session so as to discuss any and all legislation related to organized crime. Senate leaders encouraged their counterparts in the Chamber of Deputies (where there are some significant pieces of pending legislation) to do the same.

Best Case?

Earlier this week, Conor Friedersdorf offered what he terms the best case against SB 1070:
[A]mple evidence suggests that the Maricopa County policy is costly, imprudent, incapable of stopping illegal immigration or human smuggling rings, and prone to serious official abuses by law enforcement personnel. Despite some successes, its overall costs far outweigh its benefits, a conclusion you'll likely share after taking a closer look at the record over the last half-decade.
Friedersdorf (with the ample support of an old newspaper investigation) makes a convincing argument, but I'd like to nitpick the idea that this is the "best" case. Cost-effectiveness is certainly the easiest case in that it appeals to the widest range of people, and it's certainly important, but the best case in the long run isn't that illegal immigration is an evil we are incapable of stopping, but rather that immigration is a beneficial phenomenon that we should not seek to stop. Under Friedersdorf's logic, if someone more innovative than Arpaio finds a way to scare off illegal immigrants more cheaply and humanely, then we should support it. But that doesn't address the fact that immigrants respond to labor demands rather than a desire to populate the US with foreigners, nor does it acknowledge that the United States enjoys a net benefit for their presence in the country. If immigration advocates can win the argument on that terrain, the victory will likely be more enduring.

Jockeying for Power in the PAN

This weekend the PAN voted for the membership of the National Council of the PAN, which is again made up of a majority of Calderón allies. Significantly, Excélsior says that the second biggest group is allied to Santiago Creel. The Council is responsible for electing the next PAN president, as well as the PAN candidate for the presidency in 2012. Bajo Reserva says that Calderón used the occasion to call for all panistas to put aside their differences and unite. He also delivered a message of solidarity with Diego Fernández.

What Are "Bidet Wands", And What in the World Do They Have To Do with the World Cup?

Aside from leaving off Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti, both of whom have looked positively world class with Inter for the past several months, there are other signs that Argentina's famous head coach might not have his head in the right spot heading to South Africa:
Diego Maradona has demanded two state-of-the-art bidet toilets be installed for him at Argentina's World Cup base camp in South Africa.

Builders were rushed in to carry out a £1,400 overhaul of the football legend's private suite after his aides complained that the existing bathroom facilities would not meet his 'high standards.'

His bedroom now includes two bathrooms, each featuring a bidet toilets, which according to a South African newspaper retail for £311 each.

They feature a heated seat, a warm air blow-dryer and front and rear bidet wands.

The toilet is available on, which describes it as 'the best toilet seat in the world.'

Colin Stier, the manager at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria where the team will stay, said Maradona's aides had made the demand.

'(Bidets) are quite common in Argentina but hard to get hold of here,' he said.

'In the end we managed to track down a seat which has bidet nozzles, but to make it fit we ended up having to replace the whole bathroom too.'
Ah well. Messi's only 22, so he should have a great shot again in 2014. But it's hard to imagine that a coach who seems to have given more thought to his crapper than his sweeper will lead the Albicelestes to any significant results this year.

Widespread Skepticism about Calderón's Speech

Thursday's question of the day from Imagen asks whether people think that Calderón's speech to Congress would change views among the hard-right sectors of the Republican part. Eighty-three percent said no, 17 percent said yes.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Winning the Battle, Risking the War

There is an emerging narrative that as ear candy, Calderón's speech was perfectly fine, but as an effective advancer of Mexican interests, it was less so. Hence the cover of today's Milenio (the headline reads, Ovations, 27; Answers, 0):

Or the editorial from El Universal:
President Felipe Calderón yesterday gave a speech with a great deal of patriotic content. With a tongue that reminded one of Belisario Domínguez, firmly drilled the US for the mistakes that are committed daily on two issues: intolerance regarding Mexican migration and the traffic of arms to our country.

On 27 occasions he received applause from our neighboring legislators and some Mexican congressmen who, along with him, came on the official visit to Washington. The story goes that Beatriz Paredes, the PRI leader, and Carlos Navarrete, the PRD's Senate leader, showed signs of euphoric nationalism upon hearing the head of their state speak.

Nevertheless, the attitude of the representatives from the Republican party in the Capitol drew a contrast in this environment. While the Democrats stood and cheered, their conservative opponents showed signs of discomfort, first, then of open discourtesy.

The declarations of the Republican Senator from Utah, Orrin Hatch, disqualifying the voice of the Mexican president are proof of this. He accused him of having intervened, in a highly disrespectful manner, in the internal politics of his country. It's worth imagining what we Mexicans would have said if Barack Obama had taken the microphone in the highest tribunal of our nation to lecture us for our errors and mistakes.

Not only are Mexicans very nationalistic. Our neighbor can be even more so. And the history between the two nations offers abundant proof of what happens when the two identities crash into one another: Mexico and the United States end up becoming even more distant.

From that standpoint feeding the latent polarization between that country with respect to Mexican-American issues could be evaluated more as an error than a success. Our president decided to make a speech to convince the convinced and, at the same time, to abruptly disqualify those who aren't convinced on immigration reform or effectively regulating arms traffic.

With it he earned applause 27 times but he also lost, perhaps, the last opportunity during his term to move the terms of the discussion offering arguments that will make Mexico's detractors reconsider their positions.

Ackerman on Calderón's Visit

For at least the past few years, whenever Mexico has been in the news, UNAM professor John Ackerman has ordinarily taken to American opinion pages to argue that any embrace of Calderón is misguided, and the US would do well to distance itself from the Mexican leader. The state visit gave rise to two such pieces, one in the Huffington Post and another in the Daily Beast.

Here are some highlights from the Huffington Post piece:
Wednesday's White House dinner with Mexico's president Felipe Calderón may serve as the culmination of President Obama's failed strategy of appeasement.


And Obama today is supporting Calderon as supposedly the best of bad options: better an ineffective but pro-American Mexican president than the return of the PRI, or the rise of the "populist" left.
Appeasement is a tortured way to look at the situation to begin with (Are the US and Mexico on the verge of war? Is Calderón an imperialist? An aggressive expansionist? No, No, and No.), but far more startling is the implication that Obama is Chamberlain and Calderón is a latter-day Hitler. Good Christ! An explanation of why this is a ridiculous analogy is unnecessary, suffice it to say that a little perspective is in order.

As to the second sentence, this seems to assume that Obama is responsible for Calderón, rather than either of the other two options, being in power. But, of course, he's not. Obama inherited Calderón, and he's working with him, as presidents do with their counterparts in friendly nations. Obama is indeed showing a certain degree of support, but when the PRI likely returns to power in two years, I seriously doubt that Obama is going to turn his back on Peña Nieto/Beltrones/Herrera.

And here's the conclusion of the Daily Beast piece (which is otherwise effective in arguing that Obama's done little to change the relationship with Mexico in any measurable way):

Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske's was right to say last week that the "war on drugs" begun 40 years ago by Richard Nixon "has not been successful.” But Obama never misses an opportunity to express his unconditional support for Mexico's own homegrown version of Nixon, Felipe Calderón, whose "war" has not been any more successful.

It is high time for the U.S. to build alliances beyond Calderón. The Mexican judiciary, congress, academics and organized civil society have developed numerous alternatives to the present predicament. Millions of ordinary Mexicans also struggle daily to construct a better future from the ground up. They also deserve a White House toast and a 21 gun salute.

If he's going to compare him to Hitler in one piece, we shouldn't be surprised by a connection to Nixon in another. However, the analogy is likewise strained (though of course not as ridiculous). In the context of US history, Nixon was an extraordinarily (if not uniquely) soulless leader, extraordinarily motivated by pettiness, surrounded by an extraordinarily scummy coterie of dirt bags, and endowed with an extraordinary lack of interest in human life. Just because you don't like a leader or just because he is objectively a failure doesn't make him Nixon.

Moving on, Ackerman's last paragraph reads well (only more so, I presume, if you do see Calderón as Nixonian), but I don't understand what the practical alternative to Obama working with Calderón is. Heads of state deal with heads of state. That's just the way it is. Obama can't conduct foreign policy via other countries' judges or academics. (As far as opposition politicians, I guess you could argue that Obama should sideline Calderón by dealing with the PRI and the PRD, but that doesn't seem like a recipe for a better relationship, and for the record, there were a handful of opposition pols on the trip to Washington.) The US and Mexico have millions of points of contact among these groups that Ackerman mentions (Ackerman himself a good example of that), but governments deal with their counterparts. I don't see what's to be gained in either nation by Obama marginalizing Calderón.

Defending the Right to Criticize

Boz makes a persuasive case for foreign leaders pointing out a nation's foibles:
Just like the Republican critics, whenever US politicians (and sometimes pundits) call for reforms in various Latin American countries, some leaders complain that the US is interfering in their domestic politics. I disagree. I've long thought those claiming violations of "sovereignty" over verbal criticisms are really just trying to avoid legitimate and uncomfortable debate.

I think it's an excellent demonstration of our democracy that we let a foreign leader address our Congress, criticize some of our laws and call for reforms. When asked, "How would you feel if a Latin American leader made criticisms of the US domestic politics?" the answer is that I think it's great. I encourage it. I may not agree with them, but I'm open to hearing their opinion.

The hemisphere needs to get over the "stop interfering in my politics" mentality as a way to dodge criticisms. Many of these "domestic" issues actually have transnational effects and even ones that don't are worth discussing. No country should let another country control its public policy, but that doesn't mean that they can't have opinions. It's good for hemispheric democracy and public policy to have more debate, not less.
He's absolutely right on the merits, and I definitely agree that many of the embraces of sovereignty and anger about interference are just covers so as to "avoid legitimate and uncomfortable debate". Were I a congressman, I'd like to think I'd feel the same way. Whether or not Calderón was wise to attack SB 1070 and call for an assault-weapons ban is another question. Perhaps he made the calculation that he has only two years left, and that he wasn't going to get anywhere on those issues anyway, so he had nothing to lose (and much to gain domestically) by opening fire with both barrels. But if he wanted to open Americans' eyes and tilt the debate on immigration and arms trafficking in a direction more sympathetic to Mexico so that in the not-too-distant future progress may be possible, this probably wasn't the best way to go about it, especially with a Republican congressional majority likely on its way in November.

Embracing Calderón

Leo Zuckermann and Ana María Salazar both focused on the US's apapacho (something like spoiling affection) of Calderón. Here's the latter:
This visit can be considered a vacation for the president because in the US they embrace him, they congratulate him, and above all they recognize his efforts in combating organized crime. Whether because of differences of politics, ideas, or simple pettiness, the support and recognition of President Calderón, who leads a country in crisis, is obtained abroad and not among his compatriots.

Despite the critics that will say that the visit was a fiesta of rhetoric and empty words, which is to say, without concrete results, for those of us who know the details of how these official visits are put together can say that it is unusual for these events to translate into immediate or fundamental change in the relationship.
Given that last point, it's worth repeating that Salazar has worked in the White House. Here's Zuckermann, writing before the speech to Congress (and to whom Salazar may have been responding):
As we saw yesterday from the beginning of the visit, they are going to embrace Calderón in a big way. And boy does the president need it, because he's had some unhappy days. His party's candidate was killed in Tamaulipas, one of its historic leaders was kidnapped, and, to top it off, it lost the mayoralty in Mérida, one of its electoral bastions. I suppose that shows of friendship and warmth that he will receive in Washington will do Calderón well.

Beyond that, which always helps, the Mexican president will surely want to unclog a handful of issues that are presently stuck in the bilateral agenda, as well as sending a forceful message regarding the contemptible Law SB 1070 in Arizona.

All of that easily justifies the state visit to Washington. Nevertheless, those of us who are convinced that Mexico and the US must deepen their economic integration are left with certain frustration because, in this realm, everything indicates that there won't be any big announcements.
Indeed there were not. And the harsh reaction to Calderón's speech from the Republican side indicates that if anything, Calderon's words merely solidified the sticking points. Of course, Salazar says that we shouldn't have been expecting grand new initiatives, which is logical and understandable, but one would also respond that if we can't expect some kind of visible advance, what is the purpose of these visits? If it's just a success because nothing major went wrong, what kind of success is that?

The Empiest Filler Sentence of the Day

That would be in this write-up of Dennis Blair's resignation:
Blair's exit creates a critical national security vacancy at a time when U.S. spy agencies are under pressure to step up their defenses against emerging terrorist threats.
Why is the present any more vital than any other point in the past nine years? At what point since 2001 have spy agencies not been under pressure to step up their defenses against emerging terrorist threats?

Indicentally, I don't mean to take pleasure in another's misfortune, but after eight years of a loyalty fetish in the White House, it's kind of nice to see a head roll when things go wrong.

News of Fernández

An image purportedly of a blindfolded Diego Fernández began circulating last night, with the assurance that he is in good health. His family says that the photos are legitimate.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

From the Department of Horseshit

Gancho typically observes a no-profanity policy, but some pieces of self-serving nonsense cannot be accurately described with polite language. Like this, from Sven-Goran Eriksson:
"I don't think I learned much in Mexico, it's a political minefield", he said to a small group of journalists after a training session.

"What I learned is not to have a job where politics is so important"...

"In Mexican soccer, the board of directors of the federation is made up of the owners of the clubs in the first division and they make it a bit complicated, I had half of them against me from the beginning".
I don't doubt that the politics of the Mexican job are tricky, and that many of the club owners were not fans of Sven-Goran. But political acumen wasn't the primary attribute that he was lacking, it was success. Sven-Goran's teams were horrible. They finished second in the penultimate round of World Cup qualifying, an embarrassing result that culminated in a loss to Jamaica, a draw with Canada, and a loss to Honduras in the team's final three games. In the final round, Sven-Goran had them on pace to miss out on the tournament before he was sacked, having overseen a Mexican shellacking by both the US and Honduras. Eriksson didn't win a single game on the road in World Cup qualifying: indeed, against the decidedly not overwhelming Concacaf competition, Sven-Goran's Tri secured only a point in five tries outside of Mexico. Regardless of whether you arrive as a beloved hero or a suspicious foreigner, that kind of performance will have you packing your bags.


For the second time in the past two years, Torreón is hosting a final of the Mexican league later this evening. Santos is coming off of an offensive explosion/opponent's meltdown in their previous game (you must watch the fifth goal, which comes about 40 seconds in, a couple of times to truly appreciate you tremendously Morelia's goalie screwed up), and one can only hope the trend continues tonight.

Entertaining Old Story

In honor of Mario Villanueva's extradition, Jorge Fernández Menéndez wrote about the following incident last week:
A week before his flight, Villanueva went to what then was my personal office. He had threatened me on various occasions for the investigations that had done about the relationship with between his administration and drug traffickers. When his bodyguards literally took over my office, I thought the worst, but Villanueva arrived that day already defeated. There were no threats but rather explanations from a man who rolled his tie between his fingers and said that everything that had been said about his businesses was true but that he had not participated in drug trafficking. I told him that was the accusation from the federal government, the army, the DEA, a court in New York. After 15 minutes he left. Days later, he was a fugitive.

Calderón's Speech to Congress

I've not yet read it, but here it is.

The Meaning of "Rigged"

As part of its welcoming of Calderón to Washignton, NPR published an examination of security operations in Juárez titled, "Mexico's Drug War: A Rigged Fight?". The authors' methods are questionable (Malcolm Beith discusses why at length here), but I also think the piece* suffers from a conceptual flaw common to lots of reporting on Mexican security: the idea that the fight is either wholly clean or entirely corrupt, as though it were a binary condition. A lot of this presumably comes from the fact that lots of critics of Mexico's security problems and ordinary Mexicans often speak in such sweeping denunciations, and most reporters (understandably) don't get much beyond those two groups. But the idea that Chapo and co. have bought the army wholesale is silly. (To take but one recent piece of evidence: in his famous interview with Proceso, Ismael Zambada talks about how the army almost caught him on a number of occasions.) The idea that the security agencies are completely free of corruption is, of course, likewise not credible. Whereas "rigged" equates the army (or whatever agency) to the 1919 White Sox, determined to lose, the truth is somewhere in between those two extremes.

*Granted, the title is much more problematic than the reporting in this regard.

Another Huge Bust

For the second time this month, 80 tons of precursor drugs originating from China were seized in Manzanillo.

Protecting the Politicians

Leo Zuckermann thinks more Mexican politicians should have bodyguards, whether they like it or not:
I know some figures in public life that don't have bodyguards. I understand them perfectly. It must be a real hassle to have security agents watching your back. I would feel as though my private life was invaded.

Nonetheless, I also believe that many of these figures should indeed have bodyguards, even paid by the state. For one reason: should someone to make an attempt on their lives, the negative consequences wouldn't be just for themselves and their families, but rather the entire country.

Take the case of the disappearance of Diego Fernández de Cevallos. Today we know that the Boss, despite being a high-profile politician and a wealthy lawyer, was not accompanied by bodyguards when he disappeared last Friday. That was of course his right. Nevertheless, in the present context, when the state is unleashing an intense fight against organized crime, a man of Fernández de Cevallos' profile needed to have been accompanied by security personnel.


Upon discussing this topic with a pair of friends, who didn't agree with my argument, they asked me where the list of public figures who should have bodyguards begins and ends. Who must and who musn't? The truth is that I don't have a definitive answer, but I do think that there are some who should have security personnel at their disposal because any attack against them has ominous consequences for the Mexican government. And I think that one of those figures Diego Fernández de Cevallos. The same goes for Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas or Andrés Manuel López Obrador, both of whom I have seen without bodyguards. I repeat: if anything happens to these people, it ends up having negative consequences for the country.
Though he kind of contradicts himself (it's a right to deny bodyguards but it should be a requirement to have them?), I think Zuckermann makes a pretty good case that high-profile pols need to have some personal security detail. (However, I always agree with Gregg Easterbrook's mocking of self-important politicians being trailed by a huge security detail in the US. Of course, the two nations are very different in this regard.) I'm not sure that requiring them is necessary; offering bodyguards for free and shaming those who turn them down is probably just as effective and less unseemly in terms of the invasion of privacy.

Although It Affects Me Not At All, My Face Turns Red Reading This

Via Burro Hall, wow, this is really embarrassing:

In Spanish, Calderon's comments were straightforward and clear as he stood by President Barack Obama on the South Lawn and spoke to the common values and principles that unite the U.S. and Mexico.

But the English translation that American viewers heard was so bad that the official White House transcript ignored it. Instead the White House used a translation provided by the Mexican Embassy and it was markedly different from the words actually spoken by the translator as Calderon talked.

For example, here's how Calderon's comments on the tough new immigration law in Arizona were rendered by his translator during the opening ceremony:

"We can do so with a community that will promote a dignified life and an orderly way for both our countries, who are, some of them, still living here in the shadows with such laws as the Arizona law that is placing our people to face discrimination."

And here's how those same comments appeared in the official transcript issued later Wednesday:

"I know that we share the interest in promoting dignified, legal and orderly living conditions to all migrant workers. Many of them, despite their significant contribution to the economy and to the society of the United States, still live in the shadows and, occasionally, as in Arizona, they even face discrimination."

It's worth pointing out that there is no shortage of fluent English speakers in Mexico, not least Calderón himself. Although, even as a native English speaker, I imagine that were I forced to do a simultaneous translation, my performance would be similarly stumbling.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Changed Story?

The initial reports here in Mexico were that the kidnappers of Diego Fernández were suspected to be members of an organized crime group linked to drug trafficking. In an interview with CNN (the English version) during his trip to the US, Calderón denied that very claim. It makes you wonder if the investigators' suspicions have changed or if Calderón, leery of contributing to the American perception of Mexico as Colombia in the 1980s, is changing is tune depending on the audience.

Joint Statement

Click here to read the Obama-Calderón joint statement. It's about what you'd expect (although notably none of the statement's four sections deals exclusively with immigration), which is to say, it's quite dull.

What Calderón Sees as Absurd

Before he arrived in the US, Felipe Calderón was in Spain knocking the critics of his security policies. The money line:
It's absurd to think that with the retreat of the federal government, criminals will turn into saints; you have to confront them with authority.
Calderón's characterization of his opponents is a bit exaggerated, but this gets at an important question about Mexican drug policy, one that has lots of implications about the future: to what extent is the violence of the past four years caused by Calderón's aggressive stance? Relatedly, if the next president adopts a much softer approach, will violence automatically drop?

The explosion in narco-killings certainly coincided with Calderón's term, but it was on the rise toward the end of Fox's term as well. Lots of other countries have seen explosions in criminal violence that were unaccompanied by a suddenly revamped federal enforcement drive; it's not like deploying a firm hand is a prerequisite for a spike in organized crime. It's possible that the deployment of the army was the magic ingredient for a more violent Mexico, and lots of people seem to think that it is (including Calderón himself, who always points to the violence as evidence of his medicine's effect), but it's certainly not proven. I think it is more difficult for analysts and politicians to confront a situation without any single coherent, logical explanation than it is to agree on a simple cause and effect (despite the fact that the correlation hasn't been proven), and then just argue about what that effect tells us.

Anyway, if you could demonstrate that Calderón's crime policy was the single most important driver of the violence, and that internal dynamics of the drug trafficking industry were of secondary importance, then you certainly could make a case for the next president calling off the dogs and giving everyone a break. But if you're not sure, what's a politician to gain from a less aggressive approach?

The Rich Get Richer. Or, Learning from Past Mistakes.

Barcelona has signed David Villa from Valencia, which they should have done last year when they opted instead for Zlatan Ibrahimovich. Assuming the former lives up to expectations, a front line of Pedro, Messi, and Villa should be enough to compete with Real even if Messi somehow doesn't repeat his superhuman effort of this season.

Also, this writeup of Lio Messi on's cross-sport power rankings was an amusing reminder of just how unimportant soccer is to the American consciousness:
If you don't know his name, start getting to know it. Barcelona's brightest soccer star scored two goals in the Spanish league title game, giving him a total of 34 goals in La Liga and 47 in all competitions.
Elsewhere, he's been world-famous since 2006, and is probably the most celebrated athlete on the globe right about now. In the US: just try to learn his name.

What's to Come This Summer

I've not mentioned this, but surprising no one, the PRI ran away with the local elections in Yucatán this Sunday. Jorge Fernández Menéndez (who continues to amaze me with the sheer quantity of clauses with which he clutters his sentences; it's like there's a running game between he and Roy Campos, who has the same tendency) says that we can expect more of the same in July, something I completely agree with:
The election in Mérida served as a sort of rehearsal for what will happen next July 4th. The PRI, as it happens, has recovered that historic position that was the PAN's for the last 20 years, and it has achieved it with a combination that it is already using in all of the states where there will be an election: a could candidacy, that doesn't provoke conflicts with the sitting government; support from the state government; a great capacity for operation and mobilization, all against a panismo with questions about its candidates (was Senator Beatriz Zavala the best option for Mérida?), an operating structure that, even in areas as PAN-friendly as Mérida, leaves much to be desired and that, as though it were in search of its identity, doesn't know whether or not to buttress itself with the federal government, and forgets that in fact many of these elections aren't strictly local but are rather a form of referendum on the state governments, but also the federal.

It will be very different for the results of July 4th to be very different from those we had in Yucatán in general and Mérida in particular.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Worst in the World

According to a new study from Grupo Multisistemas de Seguridad Internacional, Mexico is the worst spot in the world for express kidnappings and the more traditional kidnappings for ransom. The study says that Mexico City and the state of Mexico are the worst parts of the nation for express kidnappings, followed by Sinaloa, Chihuahua, and Guerrero. The fact that the latter three states, all of them with serious organized crime problem, figure in the top five seems to indicate one of two things (or a combination of both): either you have lots of small-time hoods encouraged by the generalized climate of fear and violence, or you have members of gangs who are, for whatever reason, not raking in the cash via smuggling, and turning toward kidnapping to make ends meet. I've heard of each happening here in Torreón.

Of course, as a private security company operating in Mexico, a kidnapping scourge is not exactly bad news for authors' business, which doesn't make any of this untrue, but it's worth considering.

Calderón is Here Now

The Mexican president has arrived in Washington. More on this in English here. In Spanish, to be honest there hasn't been all that much on Calderón's in the Mexican opinion pages, basically because the Jefe Diego case has pushed it to the side. To wit, of the eight daily columns in today's El Universal (including Bajo Reserva and the editorial), seven dealt with Fernández's disappearance, zero with Calderón's visit.

A Serious and a Not-So-Serious Comment on Calderón's Trip to Washington

Isabel Studer, a scholar of the US-Mexico relationship, wrote the following about Calderón's upcoming visit to Washington:
The exhaustion of the White House, the frustration of the average American with unemployment and the economic crisis and the midterm elections which will take place in a few months in a context of persistent political polarization leave a very tight margin to string together grand initiatives in Mexico-US cooperation. This circumstance also requires that, in his speech before the American Congress, President Calderón treats cautiously key topics for Mexico that will be defined in this forum: the prohibition of long-range weapons, access for Mexican trucks to American territory, immigration reform, energy cooperation. Adopting nationalist postures over any of the above issues will end up giving ammo to more than one congressman seeking to exploit it electorally...
This a really tough line to walk. Calderón has an opportunity afforded to few leaders, but he will also be speaking to group with many members inclined to react with hostility to anything that sounds like chiding from a Mexican president. Then again, there's not a whole lot Mexico wants from the US that won't ruffle some congressional feathers, so maybe he should just speak the truth and let the chips fall where they may. I just hope it doesn't turn into thirty minutes of drug-war tropes.

It's also worth pointing out the potential for success is perhaps a bit inflated by the people who pay attention to this sort of thing. Let's say Calderón plays it perfectly, gently yet firmly asserts the Mexican position on a variety of issues, while committing Mexico to addressing its own problems in a way that reassures the most defensive congressmen. Does that translate into stricter gun legislation? Free access for Mexican trucks to American highways? Comprehensive immigration reform? In all likelihood, no, no, and no, at least not while Calderón is in office. Congressmen are motivated by their own votes, not speeches from foreign leaders, however eloquent.

Also, evidently Calderón's going to eat dinner with Eva Longoria.

Still No Word

There is still no definitive answer on who kidnapped Diego Fernández, with his family now making public pleas for the captors to communicate. The EPR, a radical group known primarily for blowing up some oil ducts a couple of years ago, has released a statement saying they do not have him nor did they have anything to do with his disappearance.

Something to Look Forward To...Maybe

It's been a bit of a dry spell for Mexican cinema over the past couple of years, at least compared to the early part of this decade. Although the reception at Cannes to Alejandro González Iñárritu's new picture gives hope: the audience gave it a nine-minute ovation. Then again, I think they had a similar reaction to Fahrenheit 9-11, which undermines the confidence ever-so-slightly. In any event, since the protagonist is a man who's about to die, I think it's fair to say that this isn't going to be the movie that moves Mexican filmmakers away from their obsession with all things grim and gloomy.

Monday, May 17, 2010


It's not much a surprise to see that Mexico is the world's top consumer of bottled water. Indeed, 13 percent of the bottled water in the world is ingested in Mexico, which, as home to less than 2 percent of the world's population, is the world's eleventh largest nation. The biggest reason is, of course, that no one can count on clean water coming from their tap, but also the excessive publicity for water bottled water.

In Honor of Barça's Historic Season

Here I add to the quadrennial explosion in gringo/yankee pontificating on soccer, or, "football", as the Euros apparently call the sport. Relatedly, Lio Messi is the man.

Jefe Diego Update

Still no definitive information on the ex-presidential candidate's whereabouts, condition, or captors. There was, however, blood in his car, which corresponds to his blood type, but cannot be positively matched to Fernández himself. Excélsior says that authorities are working based on the assumption that the kidnappers are drug traffickers, though they do not offer any info as to why investigators believe that.

On DEA Rhetoric

I have a new column here.

Arizona as an Illustration of the Relationship's Futility

This paragraph appeared at the end of a Ricardo Pascoe Pierce column last week:
What lies at the bottom of this situation is the growing dysfunction of the bilateral relationship. The salinista bet on market integration in North America, endorsed by Zedillo, Fox, and Calderón, is arriving at its end. Those who have backed this integration and have disdained economic integration as a model today have no answer for how to confront this situation. Either there is the complete integration of services, commerce, and people or there won't be beneficial integration and we should search for another path for national development, using diversification as the conceptual trunk to formulate it.
I don't buy that, at least not entirely. What's notable about the Arizona dust-up is not how it's sinking the good relations between both nations, but rather how it isn't. At the federal level, everybody on both sides agrees that it's asinine and offensive. Broadly speaking, the Arizona law is not a symptom of an inevitably dysfunctional relationship, but rather an oddity that the closer bilateral relationship is better positioned to deal with than the more distant governments would have been 40 years ago.

I also think treating diversification versus North American integration as a stark either/or proposition is the wrong way to approach the issue, though Pascoe Pierce is far from alone in that tendency. More here on that score.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Malcolm Beith hears that Nacho Coronel might be in government custody.

Nasty Night in Torreón

On Friday, for the second time this year, an armed group walked into a crowded Torreón bar (this one on the night of its inauguration) and started firing indiscriminately. Twenty-eight people were reported to be shot, eight were killed, and four were decapitated. All of this took place the shortly after Fernando Gómez Mont was in town checking out the security situation. As with the earlier case, the press didn't run anything for more than 24 hours, and the attention now that the story did hit the papers seems oddly distant. So far as I can tell, there's been nothing at all about in the American papers, despite the general journalistic enjoyment of Mexican massacres.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Diego Fernández de Cevallos Kidnaped

The 1994 presidential candidate, and one of the vital figures of the PAN ascendancy in the 1980s and 1990s, has been kidnapped in Querétaro.

Friday, May 14, 2010

On Obama's New Drug Strategy

This is a largely positive take from an academic writing for I think he's way too optimistic about the changes in the US approach to fighting the international drug trade:
We're dealing more effectively and diplomatically with drugs abroad. ONDCP has resisted the temptation to scold other countries, which has caused especially painful frictions with our Central and South American neighbors. ONDCP also notes with greater candor the problems that American drug consumption causes outside our borders. As McLellan puts it, "For once, we are not wagging our fingers at other countries." When I asked Kerlikowske how we should respond to Mexico's drug violence, he endorsed Secretary Clinton's comment that U.S. weapons and U.S. drug demand are key aspects of the problem:
"I think those are fairly new terms and words. And I think they have resonated well, not just in Mexico. ... The second thing would be to work with much greater intensity, in keeping guns from going across the border into Mexico, and in reducing the cash that goes back to Mexico that fuels those cartels."
It's hard to quantify the resulting gains in American global standing, I am convinced that these gains provide an important boost to our ability to deal cooperatively with the international drug trade.
It's definitely better that we are being more polite, but we haven't failed over the past forty years because we were overbearing. And I don't see how we are going to make a major dent in the drug trades arms purchases without new legislation that is far tougher than anything possible in the present political climate. (More here.) And even if we do (and we should) enact strict new gun laws, violent organized crime is a global phenomenon, so proximity to US gun shows is demonstrably not a prerequisite for firearm violence.

Otherwise, the piece is a good primer on what's new and what's good about the administration's strategy.

New York vs. Other Big Cities

Conor Friedersdorf makes the case that New York is too dominant on the American landscape. The principal reasons seem to be that it lures talented people away from other cities, and that it appears too often in television shows and movies. I'm unconvinced (both that it really is that dominant, and that the reasons he mentions really matter all that much), but it's interesting to ponder nonetheless.

If you compare it to many other nations' great cities, New York really isn't that overwhelming in this sense. It shares cultural preeminence with LA, and is clearly behind Washington as a political center. I imagine London and Paris monopolize their country's existence more so than New York does. Mexico is the country about which I can speak with the most authority, and I'd say that New York's role in the US is significantly less than Mexico City's in Mexico. Here, the percentage of movies taking place in Mexico City is probably around 80 or 90 percent. (Off the top of my head, I can think of only one recent flick in which Mexico City doesn't appear: Seven Days. I could name twenty without any trouble set in Mexico City, often with the Mexico City-ness a major element of the story.) With novelas the number isn't so dramatic, but most are also in Mexico City, especially those set in the modern era. Mexico City is also home to about 20 percent of the nation's population, compared to roughly 5 percent in New York. It's the unquestioned financial and political capital. It's also physically smack dab in the center of the nation. Elsewhere in Latin America, the story is similar: Santiago is home to a third of Chile's population, as is Buenos Aires in Argentina. Both are the financial, political, and, I presume, cultural capitals in their respective nations. I invite better traveled people to comment (especially New Yorkers who know Mexico City, and vice versa), but it seems as though the US is more on the multipolar side of the spectrum.

Let's Hope Not

An article from positing that Giovani Dos Santos could shine more than Lio Messi at the World Cup has earned attention here. At first glance, this is completely laughable, since Messi is regularly brilliant and Gio has been very good only in flashes (notably, the destruction of a very limited US team in last year's Gold Cup). At the same time, Mexico's group looks better than it is, which could pave the way for "surprising" run, and Gio will be a big part of whatever Mexico does. Messi's problems with Argentina during qualifying, of course, are rather well documented, and expectations are so high that, unless Messi scores a bunch and Argentina reaches at least the semis, people are going to be making negative comparisons to his form at Barca.

It's still a silly article, but Dos Santos being a revelation while Messi disappoints is not inconceivable (especially when you check out the preliminary list of the latter's teammates). But it would be a really depressing result, not unlike your brother's grilled steak sandwich coming out more flavorful than your filet mignon. Nothing against the steak sandwich, but that's not how it's supposed to be.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chapo's Wife Arrested

Chapo Guzmán's wife Griselda Pérez has been arrested in Culiacán.

It's interesting that this is being treated as a victory for the government, but they don't mention any potential crime that she committed. It seems likely that she was detained because she is Chapo's wife (and that's certainly the only reason this is news), but marrying a criminal doesn't necessarily make you one. I'm not saying she's innocent (I don't remember reading much of anything about her one way or the other), but arresting someone principally because of her spouse is a good way to further the notion that war on drugs is not a matter of a legitimate force (the government) fighting an illegitimate one (narcos), but rather is just a war among different interest groups.

This should, however, take some of the heat of Calderón for protecting Chapo, although I imagine it won't be long before people start spinning this as Calderón doing Chapo a favor because he was sick of her and wanted to hang out with his girlfriends more.

Update: Rendering pretty much all of the above moot, she was let go. Also, Beith (as well as Richard in comments) says that there marriage was mostly a thing of the past.

PAN Candidate News

The national electoral tribunal has OK'd PAN candidate Martín Orozco in Aguascalientes, whom we mentioned here a few days ago. Now that Orozco has cleared that hurdle, he's just got to worry about the ongoing criminal case in which he is a defendant and the double-digit lead for the PRI candidate.

More tragically, a PAN mayoral candidate in Tamaulipas was murdered with his son and an associate.

Maciel in the Times

There's an interesting piece in this morning's NY Times about the late disgraced priest and how Mexico is responding to the scandal:

Juan Vaca, a former Legion priest and one of Father Maciel’s victims who now lives in the United States, said he was estranged from his sister for years because she, a consecrated Legion member, did not believe his allegations. “She thought I was making false accusations against this holy man,” he said. “Now, she knows everything I said was the truth. She appreciates my courage.”

Juan Carlos, who asked that his last name not be printed because his relatives work in the order, provided a glimpse of the scandal’s impact on his upper middle class family.

He attended the Cumbres Institute in Mexico City, the first of what is now a national network of schools for the sons of Mexico’s elite. Two brothers joined the order as lay workers and continue to work for it, although one is having second thoughts. His mother began to attend regular meetings for Legionary women and met Father Maciel’s sister there, whom she revered, he said.

His sons have gone to Cumbres, and he does not intend to pull out the remaining one. “I am convinced that there is a lot more to the Legionaries than Father Maciel,” he said. “They have done great things and helped many people.”

But he was relieved when a school retreat for his son was canceled after the revelations about Father Maciel. “They brainwash you in those retreats,” he said, adding later, “They ask for money to fix the school pool, but they raise enough to build 15 pools.”

Police Innovation

The three biggest cities in Durango have unified their police operations with the Durango state police. This is a mini-version of what lots of experts say Mexico needs on a national scale, so it's provoked a fair amount of interest and praise. One of the praisers was Fernando Gómez Mont:
[This is] an essential step toward strengthening police institutions and generating greater capacity to respond in their actions against drugs.
One element that has surely facilitated this consolidation is that the executives of each of the cities and the governor of Durango (as well as Gómez Mont, if you believe Jesús Ortega) are all priístas.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

All Good

Carlos Pascual says that there is no tension in Mexico-US relationship, despite the anger over SB 1070. That's what you'd expect a diplomat to say, but it seems true here, too. One thing that's been notable about the Mexican reaction is that it is hyper-specific: there are no broadside attacks on the US, despite the outrage. Instead, virtually every comment I've heard or read (both in the media and among regular people) refers to Arizona specifically, and often as a peculiar state out of the mainstream of the US. This shows a good deal of sophistication, something you almost certainly wouldn't see in the collective US media treatment of any foreign country, nor, for that matter, in the Mexican media treatment of any other nation. I wonder if it would have been different here a generation ago.

Women in Cisen

I've written in recent months about how Mexico's gender gap is shamefully yawning. There was, however, one story a few days ago that indicates things are drifting in the right direction: a majority of the 2,364 graduates from Cisen's (Mexico's intelligence agency) new training academy have been women.

Start Scratching Your Head...Now!

Via Greg Weeks, The Daily Beast published an article today that placed blame for Arizona's immigration law on none other than Felipe Calderón. The reason, somehow, is his drug policy. There is virtually no attempt to explain why one nation's drug policy is relevant to another's immigration law (the third to last paragraph deals with the connection in an exceedingly unconvincing manner), relying on readers to do the legwork: both illegal immigrants and illegal drugs are from bad old Mexico.

People writing about the SB 1070: Mexican insecurity and Mexican immigration are not the same thing! They both come from Mexico, yes, but so do tequila and Bárbara Mori, which are likewise not to be confused.

A Sign of Journalistic Dangers

For months now, insurance providers have refused to sell life insurance to reporters working in Reynosa, Torreón, and Juárez.

Chapo's Government Minions

Via Malcolm Beith, here's the rundown on a story I've been ignoring (mostly because the articles are appearing in Reforma, which requires you have a subscription to read their stuff online, the bunch of gougers), documents linking Chapo to lots of Mexican law enforcement officials. Not really a huge surprise, and I have nothing special to add, but the red-handedness of it all is notable.


According to a new study, Mexico is the happiest country on the Earth, and its citizens have the highest level of life satisfaction on the planet. Mexico tends to be all over the map on this sort of study, and if you'll indulge a little pop psychology, I think it stems from a distinct dichotomy in the typical Mexican outlook: lots of immediate pessimism (which tends to express itself in low levels of trust in the government, very little confidence in the economy, and in perennially negative right-track, wrong-track numbers), countered by an equal amount of broad contentment, which I'd say (though without anything to back me up) is driven by the flower-smelling factors: family, friends, carne asada, etc.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Change of Strategy in the US

Obama has announced a change of drug strategy with the goal of reducing teen drug use by 15 percent:

The White House is putting more resources into drug prevention and treatment, part of President Obama's pledge to treat illegal drug use more as a public health issue and less as a criminal justice problem.

The new drug-control strategy, to be released Tuesday, boosts community-based anti-drug programs, encourages health-care providers to screen for drug problems before addiction sets in, and expands treatment beyond specialty centers to mainstream health-care facilities.

"It changes the whole discussion about ending the war on drugs and recognizes that we have a responsibility to reduce our own drug use in this country," Gil Kerlikowske, the White House drug czar, said in an interview.

The plan -- the first drug plan unveiled by the Obama White House -- calls for reducing the rate of youth drug use by 15 percent over the next five years and for similar reductions in chronic drug use, drug abuse deaths and drugged driving.

Kerlikowske criticized past drug strategies for measuring success by counting the number of children and teenagers who have not tried marijuana. At the same time, he said, the number of deaths from illegal and prescription drug overdoses was rising.

"Us facing that issue and dealing with it head-on is important," Kerlikowske said.

The new drug plan encourages health-care professionals to ask patients questions about drug use, even during routine treatment, so that early intervention is possible. It also helps more states set up electronic databases to identify doctors who are overprescribing addictive painkillers.

"Putting treatment into the primary health-care discussion is critical," Kerlikowske said.

The policy shift comes in the wake of several other drug policy changes since Obama took office. His administration said it will not target patients or caregivers using marijuana for medical purposes as long as they comply with state laws and are not fronts for drug traffickers.

Earlier this year, Obama called on Congress to eliminate the disparity in sentencing that punishes crimes involving crack cocaine more heavily than those involving powder cocaine.

So far, this doesn't seem to be attracting much attention in the US, but it is here in Mexico.

Monday, May 10, 2010

In the Jailhouse Now

Mario Villanueva, Mexico's most infamous governor before Mario Marín came along, is now in an American prison, having been extradited this weekend.

Chabat on the US's Concerns about the Next Mexican President

Here's what he wrote in response to comments from Anthony Placido:
What is true is that this possibility [of a return to power of the PRI] keeps the US government up at night. And not because it can’t get along with the PRI –indeed it did for 71 years—but because it perceives the possibility of a change in antidrug policy….[I]t’s difficult to ignore the fact that if the PRI knew how to do anything during its seven decades in the presidency and in almost all of the realms of power in Mexico it was precisely how not to chase a lot of criminals. And of course more than one PRI politician must be thinking that if they win the presidency it would be better to return to the “pax narcotica” that existed during the PRI era in which narcos killed less but also became stronger.

But, how realistic is that possibility, beyond the preference of the politicians? What’s true is that the future of antidrug policies will depend a great deal on their being some visible results that allows the population to maintain some support for the policy of confronting drug traffickers. What is surprising is that despite the growing narco-violence, which is causing collateral victims, innocent people that have nothing to do with the business, there appears to be a consensus among the political class that what is missing is more contro0ls on the use of state force against drug traffickers so as to not leave the country to the mercy of the criminals. At least that’s what the politicians’ speeches say. And it’s also true that the polls continue to show some support for a war against drug trafficking despite the growth of pessimism about the eventual victory for the government. And from that point of view, public opinion will be fundamental for deciding the future of combating drugs, independently of who is the president. Certainly, there won’t be a reduction of violence overnight, despite Gómez Mont’s optimism on that issue. But it is possible there is a more careful use of public force that at least sends the message that the government “knows what it is doing” and that it’s not blindly firing away. If this occurs, if the “collateral” victims decrease and in the cases in which they do happen what happened is made clear beyond that shadow of a doubt and the responsible are punished, it’s likely that the fight against organized crime will continue during the next administration. If that doesn’t happen, we could return to the policy of simulation and tolerance of drug traffickers, even if the next president is from the PAN. The US is right to worry about the future of the war against drugs in Mexico. A return of the policy of tolerance is possible, which will only make things worse in the medium term. That’s why it’s urgent to strengthen institutions and the controls over the use of public force. Of course, if the deputies can agree at some point about what they want from the National Security Law…
I think it’s important to remember that at this point, even if the army goes back to its barracks tomorrow and the next president calls off the dogs, there’s no reason to think that violence will immediately plummet. After all, the vast majority of the narco-deaths in Mexico don’t involve the army. You get the sense that in Mexico, Pandora’s box has been opened, and there’s no easy path to much lower murder rates. The gangs operating today are far more decentralized than they were a generation ago, and if a governmental pact really was the key to drug traffickers' relatively low-key MOs a generation ago, it seems unlikely that such a scenario can be recovered. From that standpoint, there’s no reason to expect a softer gloves from the next government, because what would the benefit be?

In any event, the security forces should absolutely behave more responsibly and humanely and cases of civilian deaths could be handled with a great deal more professionalism and attention to public opinion, and I completely agree that strengthening security agencies is a good way to avoid the ebbs and flows in attention to security (and other issues) that are implicit in changes of power.