Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More Reaction to the Torre Assassination


The papers today are focusing on Paredes' speech last night as a clear rejection of Calderón's call for unity. It remains to be seen how much of an influence the speech and its author have on the PRI's relationship with Calderón with regard to security policy, but insofar as Paredes' speech is a reflection of the PRI's intentions, it's a real shame. Mexico's last great opportunity to establish a cross-party security alliance came in late 2008, and policy-makers (with a lot of help from certain media sources) completely blew it.

One thing I've read or heard dozens of times in the past several years is that Mexico's politicians don't care about security because it doesn't really affect them, they don't feel the fear that the average Mexican does. Well, they certainly should now. If they can't pull it together and articulate a lasting, unified approach to security (and that's not something that can or should be hammered out in the next couple of days, but the headlines indicate an unwillingness to even take steps in that direction), it's not because they aren't affected by crime. It's because there's too many narrow-minded clowns among them.

Also, Torre Cantú's brother Egidio is to take over his candidacy.

Torre Cantú Commentary

Jorge Fernández Menéndez on Torre Cantú's reputation for honesty:
Rodolfo Torre Cantú was a local politician with a strong presence, he had been coordinator of the deputies in his state but he was a doctor by training and had been a recognized secretary of health in the cabinet of Eugenio Hernández. He wasn't known, there wasn't any official or unofficial information about Torre Cantú being linked to drug traffickers.
He also says that a short bit before Colosio was killed, he kicked the brother of Juan García Abrego, then the reigning Tamaulipas kingpin, out of a dinner held in his honor, something I don't ever remember hearing before.

Leo Zuckerman worries that Mexico is sinking even lower, and that the only thing separating Mexico from Colombia in the 1980s is a bombing campaign. This seems exaggerated (the Farc and other guerrilla groups, not to mention about 600 degrees of magnitude are also missing), but it's forgiveable. It does indeed seem like a dark new day.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Torre Cantú Notes

The US, in the person of Arturo Valenzuela, laments the murder.

The peso slipped oh-so-slightly.

Calderón called for a common national front in the struggle against organized crime, and the PRI's governors have accepted the offer.

Beatriz Paredes criticized those who would use the murder for political gain (not sure if this is a warning shot at Calderón ahead of the meeting, or at anyone else in particular).

The PRI promises to have a successor to Torre in the next couple of days.

The governor of Tabasco said that five governors, himself included, have received death threats in recent weeks.

Money-Laundering in US Banks

I've been soundly beaten to it, but this story from Bloomberg about money laundering in American banks is quite good. Highlights:
Wachovia admitted it didn’t do enough to spot illicit funds in handling $378.4 billion for Mexican-currency-exchange houses from 2004 to 2007. That’s the largest violation of the Bank Secrecy Act, an anti-money-laundering law, in U.S. history -- a sum equal to one-third of Mexico’s current gross domestic product.

“Wachovia’s blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations,” says Jeffrey Sloman, the federal prosecutor who handled the case.

Since 2006, more than 22,000 people have been killed in drug-related battles that have raged mostly along the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border that Mexico shares with the U.S. In the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, 700 people had been murdered this year as of mid- June. Six Juarez police officers were slaughtered by automatic weapons fire in a midday ambush in April.

[Break]

Large banks are protected from indictments by a variant of the too-big-to-fail theory.

Indicting a big bank could trigger a mad dash by investors to dump shares and cause panic in financial markets, says Jack Blum, a U.S. Senate investigator for 14 years and a consultant to international banks and brokerage firms on money laundering.

The theory is like a get-out-of-jail-free card for big banks, Blum says.

“There’s no capacity to regulate or punish them because they’re too big to be threatened with failure,” Blum says. “They seem to be willing to do anything that improves their bottom line, until they’re caught.”

Shameful

Evidently, a group of people watching Sunday's action in South Africa, Fernando Gómez Mont's brother among them, went after members of the players' families (including Guillermo Franco's wife) after the team lost. Aside from being the brother of one of the nation's most important figures, Miguel Gómez Mont was also the director of a government tourism fund, a post from which he has since been relieved.

Always the Favorites

Somehow, I managed to bet on Chile yesterday:
Playing against Brazil is an absolute nightmare. I can’t think of a score in my favor at which I’d begin to relax: 5-0, 7-0? Let’s be honest—most teams see that canary yellow jersey and quietly shit themselves. At last year’s Confederations Cup, the U.S. was up two goals at the half, and promptly gave the game away. For their part, Brazil never appeared too concerned, and the final score could hardly have been less surprising. It was, in fact, nothing less than the same old story. My entire life, I’ve been watching Brazil play poorly and win consistently. They are the rare team that never seems to be in control of the game, though they always are. The truth is they’re not playing the same game as their opponents. They’re playing something else, a sport related to soccer, but entirely different. In their version of the sport the rest of us know, if they score one on you, they’ll score three. Once you’re forced to chase the game—as Chile was today—they’re more than happy to tear you to pieces.

Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile, to their credit, were not afraid. They played the same attractive, attacking style they’ve shown all tournament long; but unfortunately for them, they also displayed the same goal-scoring futility that plagued them in the group stage. (Chile got this far on the strength of only two goals.) You can’t beat Brazil squandering opportunities. You have to score early, and often. You have to make them come to you. You have to force their defenders to play defense full time, without giving them a chance to make those lethal runs up the wings. And most importantly, you have to beat them for a solid ninety minutes. How many times have I seen Brazil be thoroughly dominated for eighty-five minutes, and walk off the pitch smiling and victorious, as if they found the entire spectacle amusing?
On the plus side for those of us who like some variety in our champions, the Netherlands has had some big wins over the Brazilians through the years.

Calderón on the Tamaulipas Assassination

Here's a snippet of the speech:
These acts fill all Mexicans with grief and indignation.

I have contacted the President of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, Beatriz Paredes Rangel, as well as State Governor Eugenio Hernández Flores, to offer them Federal Government’s unconditional support in clarifying these unfortunate events.

We will work without cease with the state authorities of Tamaulipas to find the culprits and bring them to justice.

These events constitute an attack not only on a citizen, who sought to serve his community from a position of public responsibility, but also on society as a whole.

This is an act, not only against a political party candidate, but against democratic institutions and is therefore an act that demands a firm, united response from all of us that believe in democracy.

We have analyzed these events in Federal Government’s Security Cabinet and have already assigned tasks to each of the departments to reinforce the investigation being undertaken by the authorities and of course to help the Tamaulipas authorities with electoral process and the security this will require.

As I have said, today organized crime poses the greatest threat to Mexicans’ safety, freedom and tranquility. It is an enemy that knows no limits, that severely damages society as a whole and jeopardizes peace, security and our institutions.

That is why the fight for security and justice and against crime must be a fight that goes beyond political parties and differences. It is everyone’s fight. That is why we are all determined to ensure that such perverse interests do not take over our society or institutions.

It is a fight by everyone, in particular those of us that represent citizens at any government level and in any branch.

Today, we have proved that organized crime is a permanent threat and that we must close ranks to address it and prevent the repetition of actions such as the cowardly assassination that has shaken the country.

The fight for security demands joint responsibility and the determined participation of all orders of government, the three branches of government and society as a whole.

Events such as the one we profoundly regret today are a reminder that we are facing a common enemy and that we cannot cease our efforts to fight it.

And this is precisely the reason why Federal Government is using all the force of the state to combat organized crime, particularly in the state of Tamaulipas and other states in the country.

In addition to being our obligation, it is an unavoidable commitment to families’ well-being and Mexicans’ future.

We cannot and must not allow crime to impose its will and perverse rules, as it is attempting to now by intervening in citizens’ decisions and electoral processes.

The only way to achieve citizens’ peace and freedom is to face organized crime fairly and squarely until it is defeated. Because the fight against law and order is precisely to defend Mexicans’ life, integrity and rights.

In their attempt to control territories, criminals have sought to intimidate not only other criminals and criminal groups but also the authorities and society by committing a series of crimes that seriously harm everyone.

Federal Government, through myself, confirms its commitment to acting firmly, precisely to preserve citizens’ safety and the stability of institutions.

We must combine forces above and beyond political and party interests. This fight is everyone’s and for the benefit of all.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pre-Election Jaw-Jaw

This weekend, Marcelo Ebrard said that the PRI shouldn't even dream of returning to the presidency. Peña Nieto fires back that not only will the PRI be back in Los Pinos in 2012, it's going to hold on to Oaxaca next Sunday. Hopefully, the two camps will scuffle at a press conference before too long.

Peña Nieto, incidentally, is on his way to China to inaugurate a Mexico State exhibit at the Shanghai Expo. This is another in a series of presidential-seeming activities by Peña Nieto in recent years, including trips to talk security in Israel and state of the state addresses overflowing with pageantry. Of course, campaigning on the national stage, not to mention running the country, is a very different ballgame, and there's no telling whether Peña Nieto will be good at either. Plus, his government made an utter hash of the investigation into one of the more infamous crimes in the nation's recent history. It as ever seems that the credits side of the Peña Nieto ledger is filled with rather empty items, while the debts are significant.

On Calderón's Strategy Rollout

I have a column here.

Murdered Candidate

Rodolfo Torre, the PRI candidate for governor in Tamaulipas (which is to say, the future governor of Tamaulipas), was assassinated earlier today. I've not had a great deal of time to reflect, but this strikes me as the boldest and most worrying assassination of a public official at least since Édgar Millán's in 2008. Tamaulipas is presently the site of fighting between Gulf traffickers and the Zetas, so I imagine that the speculation and reporting about motive will have to do with his relationship with those two groups.

A Development in Tlaxcala

The PRD gubernatorial candidate in Tlaxcala, where there was no PAN-PRD alliance, has withdrawn and has urged her supporters to vote for her erstwhile opponent from the PAN. The PAN's Adriana Dávila had been behind by just a few points in most recent polls, so if most of the ten or so points that the PRD's Minerva Hernández was polling shift to the PAN, this could spell doom for the PRI. Of course, they'll likely have another ten or eleven victories with which to console themselves.

Bummer

As much as it sucks for most of Mexico to deal with another loss to Argentina (following not only the defeat 2006 World Cup, but also in the semis of the 2007 Copa América, and in the quarters of the 2007 U20 World Cup), I wonder if there is anyone on the planet presently suffering more footballistically than Malcolm Beith, who I believe has significant connections to three of this weekend's losers. For all I know he also has a South Korean uncle, rounding out the quartet of World Cup misery.

With regard to the Mexican performance yesterday, as bad as Osorio's howler was, I've not heard anyone sending blame his direction. Instead, all of the nation's fire is, as predicted, targeting Javier Aguirre. The surprise decision to start Adolfo Bautista on Sunday was the last in a series of insane personnel moves. Bautista is essentially a Mexican league journeyman, a perfectly competent forward who's still managed to be moved five times in eight years. There were screams of dismay that he was included among the final 23, and for his number to be called for the first time ahead of the toughest test of the tourney, well, it's hard to imagine what exactly logic was guiding Aguirre. As it turned out, Bautista was an utter non-factor.

Aguirre's second most glaring error was his refusal to give Guardado 90 minutes on the field. When he played, he was somewhere from solid to dazzling. This was no surprise, as Guardado has been Mexico's most consistent player since 2006, and is among the best performers on a mid-level Spanish team, something no other Mexico player can say.

Finally, I read that Carlos Salcido was deported from the US three times growing up. As good as the PSV defender was for Mexico (and he was arguably their best player, at least until he started launching a series of 40-yard tries skyward in the final twenty minutes of yesterday's game), and as shaky as DeMerit was, it would have been great if American authorities could have given him citizenship in exchange for a promise to suit up with Uncle Sam as a grown-up.

Friday, June 25, 2010

More Evidence of Coming PRI Victories

There are four new gubernatorial polls in Milenio today, and nine that have been published in the past little while by Mitofsky. The news is not good for the PAN or PRD, as the PRI is leading in every single one, with leads well beyond the margin for error in the majority of cases. Taking into account the pollsters' most recent surveys from all of the states' electing a governor, in only one --Milenio's Puebla poll-- is the PRI candidate behind. In Oaxaca, Tlaxcala, and Sinaloa, where the PAN-PRD candidates had shown signs of life, the PRI has built leads of nine, six, and six points, respectively, according to Mitofsky, and advantages of six, two, and eight points in the Milenio polls.

Readying the Blame

At least in my circle of interaction, Mexicans are not feeling particularly optimistic about Sunday's encounter with Messi, Maradona, Maxi, Mascherano, Milito, di María, Miguain (OK, I cheated on that last one, but that was one hell of an alliterative kick) and the rest of the Argentines, and with good reason: chances are, the Mexicans are coming home on Monday. It would seem from this El Universal poll in which 83 percent of respondents blame Javier Aguirre for the team's poor performance that Mexico already has its goat lined up. I'm not sure any coach, from Mourinho on down, could guide Mexico by Argentina most days, but the lack of playing time for Guardado and Hernández remains hard to justify. One can't help but think that if those two had played 90 minutes in each game, Mexico would be looking at South Korea and the US/Ghana for the semis, rather than staring at elimination.

Threats against American Cops?

Via Boz, ABC News reports that multiple informants delivered threats from Mexican drug traffickers against undercover officers employed by the police department in Nogales, Arizona. The cause is evidently the bust of a marijuana shipment earlier this month worth $250,000. Everyone mentioned in the story treats the threat as a serious one:
"I take these recent threats seriously," said George Grayson, a professor at the College of William & Mary and an expert on Mexican politics. "These cartels have such firepower and have so many cadres that if you're on the wrong side, you're life is certainly in danger."

Grayson said the threat likely came from the Sinaloa Cartel, which is headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who is being sought by American and Mexican authorities. The U.S. State Department is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

"The cartels are more likely to go after local police," Grayson said. "You threaten an FBI agent and it does sound alarm bells across Washington. The same with Drug Enforcement Administration."

Phil Jordan, former DEA intelligence chief along the U.S.-Mexico border, believes Guzman may have been behind the threats in order to divert law enforcement attention away from the heavily-travelled drug corridor between El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. But he doesn't think Mexican cartels will actually target American law enforcement.

"Let me tell you something about the cartels – whether they're from Colombia or Mexico or Russia – they do not under any circumstances want to spend time in American jails," Jordan told ABCNews.com. "The cartels are not going to take us on on American soil. They have cells all over the U.S. but they don't want that type of attention."

Jordan added, "Chapo Guzman is no dummy. If he can put out stuff like that so we can send reinforcements to the Nogales sector, he knows we'll have to send people from the Texas border to help and you'll see an increase in drug loads moving through Texas."

A little more caution on the part of the authorities in Nogales seems completely prudent, even if the threat is false or just some local boss blowing smoke. It's hard to know exactly what sort of logic is guiding the many different players in the region, and it only takes one to act on the threat.

However, even assuming it is legitimate, it seems unlikely that it's coming from Chapo or someone of his stature. As Jordan says, he's no dummy, so why would he risk the redoubled efforts from the US government that would come from targeting American law-enforcement, especially over a mere $250,000? That would be pretty silly indeed. (And I think the distinction Grayson draws between local law enforcement and the FBI is exaggerated; if a foreign gang took to killing American authorities for doing their job, it would be a huge, huge deal, even if they were just locals.) If we estimate his fortune at $250 million (which is far more conservative than the most common figure tossed about), than the shipment in question, of which he wouldn't be entitled to 100 percent, would represent 1/1000th of his total worth. The status quo is Chapo's friend, and targeting honest American cops would upend it. After so many years in the game, you'd think Chapo would know that losing $250,000 from time to time is part of the equation, an equation that is nonetheless very profitable for him.

Jan Brewer's Favorite Italian

There seems to be no need to point out why this is stupid:
As the fallout from Italy's humiliating World Cup exit starts, politicians have jumped on the bandwagon, with Roberto Calderoli, a minister who belongs to a right-wing anti-immigration party, accusing "luxury immigrant" footballers as being the cause of the crisis.

"They are paid millions, have legs made of jelly and are short of breath," ranted Calderoli. "This defeat brings the torment of our national side to an indecorous and predictable end.

"Italy's premature elimination is merely the result of an insane sports policy which has seen the league, the cup and the Champions League being won by teams who do not have a single Italian, including the coach.

"Unfortunately for [Italy coach Marcello] Lippi, luxury immigrants can't play for the national side and today's result is the logical consequence of this fact. We need to get our own home-grown lads playing in our clubs."

If it gets more press, will this story make American right-wingers reconsider their aversion to soccer?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Emulating Colombia

From Jorge Fernández Menéndez:
Colombia during the Uribe did exactly the opposite [compared to Mexico's recent history]: it centralized power and its security agencies; it militarized its only police; it established deep cooperation with the United States, Great Britain, and France and their respective intelligence services, so as to work jointly; it accepted Plan Colombia because it knew that without the active participation of the United States, it couldn't defeat the Farc and the cartels that had over time become the same thing. In the context of the democratic security system, they began a frontal attack against corruption; carried out a judicial reform, so as to adopt an oral and accusatory system, which began immediately and has advanced in a progressive but constant form; negotiated with the belligerent groups, such as the paramilitaries, so as to demobilize them, as it did with many groups of the Farc. As was the case in Mexico, war was declared against drug traffickers and guerilla groups that controlled up to a third of the territory and that had support and bases in neighboring countries like Ecuador and Venezuela. But, unlike Mexico, this was taken up as a national commitment: the president made it, but also the parties, Congress, the media, big business, and the unions. And all of the national effort was concentrated on recovering lost territory: if eight years ago you couldn't travel on highways, today the state has complete control of them; if eight years ago Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, and Cartagena, to mention only the large cities, were subject to attacks, violence, kidnappings (which were in the thousands) and robberies, today they have absolutely normal levels of security. This is reflected in investments and in an open economy. Colombia today exports three times more than it did eight years ago, while inflation went from 7 to 2 percent, and the economy has grown consistently, even with the crisis.

What's the difference? The national project, a cleansed political class convinced that there exists a common cause, the decision of the authorities and the people that they couldn't continue on the same path, so they faced up to all of the reforms that they had carry and accept all of the efforts and combats, of all types, that this implied.

And from Robert Bonner (H/T):

There are several lessons to be drawn from Colombia’s successful campaign. First, since the cartels were vertically integrated, transnational organizations, the campaign against them required the involvement of more than one country. A multinational approach, with strong support and assistance from the United States, was essential.

Second, the goal must be clear. In Colombia, the objective was to destroy the Cali and Medellín cartels — not to prevent drugs from being smuggled into the United States or to end their consumption. Indeed, there are still drug traffickers in Colombia, and cocaine is still produced there, but these cartels no longer pose a threat to Colombian national security.

Third, a divide-and-conquer strategy can be effective. The Colombian government chose to attack one cartel at a time rather than fighting a two-front war. Importantly, Colombia and the United States used the “kingpin strategy” to dismantle the cartels; a strategy that hinged on locating, capturing and incapacitating the kingpins and key lieutenants, while vigorously attacking the vulnerabilities of their organizations, including disrupting their cash flow and sources of supply.

In the longer term, law enforcement and judicial institutions must be reformed. Success in Colombia required strengthening the capacity and integrity of the country’s policing, prosecutorial and judicial institutions.

Moreover, the limits on the usefulness of the military must be understood. The Colombian military played an important part in the defeat of the Cali and Medellín cartels, yet it did not play a decisive role — the Colombian National Police did. Militaries are ill-suited to carry out the law enforcement actions necessary to ultimately bring down criminal organizations, including investigations and the use of informants and electronic surveillance to gather evidence.

Finally, extradition is essential. Imprisonment in the United States was the only thing that Colombian traffickers truly feared. If Mexico takes these lessons to heart and continues to show strong leadership and firm political will, it will rid itself of the cartels for good.

Lots of points here (in the interest of space, I'll stick to the areas of disagreement, but there are points I agree with). First of all, it depends what you mean "rid itself of the cartels". Mexico can see to it that its smugglers in a generation don't have Chapo's wealth or power or fame, but it will most certainly not rid itself of drug trafficking organizations. As Bonner alludes to, Colombia could not provide a better example of this; it defeated Escobar and the Rodríguez Orejuelas, but Colombia remains the world's largest producer of cocaine, with more than 450 metric tons produced in 2008. Colombian drug traffickers are arrested on a regular basis in Mexico, to say nothing of Colombia. So Colombia may have rid itself of cartels if you define them as organizations resembling Pablo Escobar's, but in no way has it rid itself of people who perform the same function as Escobar's gang (albeit in a less threatening manner, which is an extremely positive development, as Bonner says).

Another thing that is as ever missing from the Mexico-Colombia comparisons is a little bit of context. For example, in Medellín, which Fernández somehow calls "absolutely normal" and which was hailed as a miracle of peace in 2008 by the Washington Post, more people were killed in 2009 than in Juárez. Medellín is more than twice as big as Juárez, so the Mexican border town's murder rate is higher, but post-miracle Medellín is still one of the most dangerous cities in the hemisphere. Even after eight years of Uribe's efforts, Colombia is still among the most violent countries in the region, with a murder rate of 36 per 100,000 residents in 2008. That's down from more than 60 in 2000, but still three times higher than Mexico's present murder rate. Murder isn't the only way to measure security, and I'm not trying to say that Mexico should ignore Colombia because the latter is so much more violent. Furthermore, each country has certain security problems that the other doesn't, but that just brings into starker relief the differences between the two nations, and makes all the more clear that we should be very cautious in advocating Colombian solutions for Mexico's problems.

Other countries' experience with similar challenges can be helpful, but the tone should not be, Colombia has made enormous progress and Mexico should imitate it, but rather, Despite vast differences between the respective circumstances, Colombia's (or Italy's or New York City's) efforts to improve security could be instructive to Mexico.

Betting on Extermination

According to Excélsior, the title of this post is also the army's characterization of the logic guiding the fighting in Tamaulipas and Chihuahua. Chapo and Vicente Carrillo and the Zetas and their erstwhile Gulf patrons--all of them are trying to drive the others not to other portions of the national territory, but into nonexistence, which is what explains the recent spate of massacres.

There may be something to this, but I think it's unlikely that this is a fundamentally different phase in which several thousands of one organization or the other necessarily must be killed for the battles to come to an end. More likely, the logic is not markedly different than in the past, and the gangs are ratcheting up the violence in a heretofore futile effort to tip the combat in their direction. It makes much more sense for any criminal group to seek to run the losers out of town or get them to change sides (for the lower-level grunts) rather than kill each or even most of them.

Odd Lack of Support

This online poll from Grupo Imagen is striking: asked the question, "The Mexican government asked a federal court in the US to declare Arizona's Law SB1070 unconstitutional...do you think we have the right to do so?", 65 percent said no. I'm not sure if this is upper-class disdain for poorer immigrants (I hope not because that would be a rather ugly sentiment, but I also suspect not, because immigration and moreover Hispanic identity is hardly the exclusive province of the poor), or perhaps a twisted expression of nationalistic cautiousness (i.e. if we can challenge their laws, then they can challenge ours), but whatever the emotion or pattern of thought from which this springs, the result is unexpected.

Good News for Car-Buyers

Felipe Calderón announced today that Mexico's tenencia tax, which imposes steep fees on Mexicans with new cars (I'm not sure on the specifics, but in my experience it's at least several hundred dollars a year for any car purchased within the last five years or so), is being phased out. As of 2012, no one will have to pay it. Calderón announced the plan as a stimulus for the auto industry, but this is also a gigantic bugaboo for virtually all car-owners, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see a bump to his approval ratings as a result. I'll be interested to see economic analysts pick apart the fiscal impact. The tenencia provides money to the state rather than the federal government, so this would seem likely to open up some rather gaping holes in state budgets. Since the federal government provides most of the state cash and the states don't have other significant revenue sources to replace the tenencia, you'd think something else is going to have to replace it. More to come...

Tightening

The race in Puebla (where 10-year-old tapes of the sitting priísta governor, the ever-more-detestable Mario Marín, having inappropriate conversations with a 17-year-old girl recently emerged in the media. This follows credible allegations of protecting a child pornographer and kidnapping a journalist) may have swung against the incumbent party. Milenio has the PAN-PRD candidate for Marín's post opening a two-point lead over the PRI's man. Two previous polls from the same pollster put the PRI candidate up by nine points. July 4 is not probably not going to be a positive day for the PAN, with somewhere between nine and 12 of the governor's races that day likely to go against them, but a defeat of Marín would be no small consolation.

Update: However, Mitofsky has the PRI candidate still up by ten, so maybe Milenio's is just a one-off outlier.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ebrard, AMLO, and the Alliances

Bajo Reserva explains what the PAN-PRD alliances mean for the latter party's heavyweights:
Marcelo Ebrard has now bought into the alliances. Beyond that, he said yesterday that an election coalition like that of 2010 (PRD-PAN and whoever joins up) will confront the PRI candidate for governor in the state of Mexico next year. This leads to various conclusions. The first is that there exists a clear intention to impact the preferences of the second most power competitor for the presidential candidates: Enrique Peña Nieto, because it's not secret that the process in Mexico, before the federal election in 2012 will serve to measure the force of the present governor and the PRI as well. The second is that he puts distance between himself and Andrés Manuel López Obrador and he aligns himself more with the PRD of Jesús Ortega: let's remember that AMLO, his principal competitor (because he competes in internal elections and then, depending on the result, in the federal electoral process), is opposed to the alliances. The third is perhaps the most important--because the first two are logical conclusions: Ebrard has decided to place his bet on the result of this summer in 2010. By buying into the alliances, he is gambling part of his political capital. Very interesting.

Protesting

Via Greg Weeks, Mexico has filed an amicus curiae brief challenging the Arizona's SB 1070 law:
Mexico on Tuesday asked a federal court in Arizona to declare the state's new immigration law unconstitutional, arguing that the country's own interests and its citizens' rights are at stake.

Lawyers for Mexico on Tuesday submitted a legal brief in support of one of five lawsuits challenging the law. The law will take effect July 29 unless implementation is blocked by a court.

The law generally requires police investigating another incident or crime to ask people about their immigration status if there's a "reasonable suspicion" they're in the country illegally. It also makes being in Arizona illegally a misdemeanor, and it prohibits seeking day-labor work along the state's streets.

Citing "grave concerns," Mexico said its interest in having predictable, consistent relations with the United States shouldn't be frustrated by one U.S. state.

Mexico also said it has a legitimate interest in defending its citizens' rights and that the law would lead to racial profiling, hinder trade and tourism, and strain the countries' work on combatting drug trafficking and related violence.

Cabañas Update

One of the men accompanying the alleged shooter of Salvador Cabañas has been captured in the State of Mexico. The article linked above says that the shooter, known as El JJ, that the argument that resulted in Cabañas' shooting arose from the former's anger with the latter's performance with América, one of the stupider reasons for a tragic incident that you could conceive. It also says that El JJ is a Mexico City representative of Édgar Valdéz Villarreal, something I'd seen suggested before.

Making Up, Halfway

Today Felipe Calderón met with Fidel Herrera, he of the "total fucking power" in Veracruz. Herrera came out of the meeting clarifying that the parties guilty of taping him were neither Calderón nor Fernando Gómez Mont, but rather César Nava, a declaration that was likely Calderón's chief goal in making the trip. Whether or not Herrera was guilty of a crime doesn't seem to have come up in the comments afterward from either man, which lends credence to the theory put forth by José Antonio Crespo that the PAN (especially Calderón) won't seek to punish Herrera legally (though of course electorally it will indeed do so), because it will radically change the rules by which the game is played, which is to say that it will only open the PAN up to similar charges in the future. And the mutual back-scratching continues, much to the dismay of a cynical population.

The US Advance


The fact that the US came out of a tricky group in first place, despite the impediment of two key goals being wrongly disallowed, despite going into injury time on the verge of elimination, is really something to celebrate. And I don't want to get ahead of myself, but it would likely be the semifinals before the US has to go up against a power of the Spain-Brazil-Argentina variety. I'm off to go sing the Star Spangled Banner sixty times or so.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bowden's Book

Here's a snippet of a review of Charles Bowden's new book on Juárez, written by Michelle Goldberg:
Bowden sees Juárez as a harbinger of planetary chaos, a vision of a world undone by inequality and ravenous appetites. “Juárez is not behind the times,” he insists. “It is the sharp edge slashing into a time called the future.” Though the title suggests an economic analysis of the city’s breakdown, Bowden does not really try to explain anything. Instead his book is an apocalyptic fugue that is contemptuous of the demand for explanation. Bowden writes with the impressionistic urgency of a half-crazed would-be prophet, and while he has a very important story to tell, his style blunts its impact.

Bowden, like Guillermoprieto and other smart journalists who have covered Juárez, argues that the city’s violence cannot be explained by the wars of the drug cartels alone. It is also perpetrated by the police, and the army, and individuals ruined by the city’s poverty, nihilism, drugs, and corruption. Meanwhile, the maquiladoras, drawing migrants from the countryside but never offering a living wage, create a society that is deracinated and desperate. “What is happening in Juárez and increasingly throughout Mexico is the breakdown of a system,” he writes. “There are no jobs, the young face blank futures, the poor are crushed by sinking fortunes. The state has always violated human rights, and now, in the general mayhem, this fact becomes more and more obvious.”

But Bowden is not really interested in developing this thesis. In fact, he is often scornful of anyone who offers any thesis at all. Frustrated with pat, reductive explanations for the carnage, he directs his fury at those who would try, however imperfectly, to understand the dynamics behind it. One chapter imagines a performance in which Juárez’s ghosts tell the stories of their murders: “We will not allow anyone with answers to be present. Explanations will be killed on sight. Theories strangled by my own hands. No one can speak of cartels if he is not a member of a cartel or, at the very least, has not spoken on the record with a member of a cartel. No one will be allowed to speak of the army’s war with the cartels unless he has taken a combat role in that war. Academic commentators must show video of themselves at the killings or having beers with the killers before they will be allowed to say a single word.”

This passage, with all its extravagant world-weary machismo and misplaced literariness, shows how insufferable Bowden can be. He is a bit of an authorial bully. He wants the reader to feel guilty for wanting answers, for daring to form opinions without having seen all the terrible things that Bowden himself has seen.

Reaction to the Absolution

Last week, the Supreme Court absolved all of the high-level officials connected to the ABC day-care center fire (namely, former Sonora Governor Eduardo Bours, IMSS chief Daniel Karam, and Karam's predecessor Juan Molinar Horcasitas) of responsibility, a decision that provoked much hand-wringing (understandably, given that 49 toddlers' lost their lives in the event). Here's Leo Zuckermann:
Arturo Zaldívar put on the Supreme Court's (SCJN) table for discussion the role of responsibility for high-ranking public officials in an incident where 49 children died. The minister elaborated a magnificent document that will be read in political science classes in the future. For the first time in history, a member of the SCJN proposed the make a cabinet secretary and other top-flight officials responsible for grave violations of human rights.

But his colleagues rejected the proposal. They were probably legally correct. The majority of lawyers think so. The question is if it was the best decision from a political point of view. It hurts me to say it, but I think so: the lamentable decision of the SCJN was also correct within the context of minimizing the political costs for the Court.

What will be the costs for the SCJN for having rejected the proposal from Zaldívar that placed responsibility for the fire in Hermosillo's ABC day-care center on officials like Daniel Karam, presently the director of IMSS, and his predecessor, Juan Molinar, presently the secretary of communications and transportation?

Unfortunately, few. Very few. It seems to me that the justices had it calculated. They knew they could release a decision like this without many consequences. Why?

Because they also live in the country where no pasa nada. [A very common expression in Mexico meaning something like a combination of There's nothing wrong and Everything's OK.] Where there aren't great social mobilizations to demand justice. Where the word responsibility doesn't exist in the dictionary of the majority of the population. Where justice is a long and frustrating process for the parents of the 49 children who died burned or suffocated in a warehouse that was functioning as a day-care center. Where the resignation of a high-ranking official is interpreted as an act of ignominy.

[Break]

The attitude of the justices would have been different had they received thousands of letters demanding accountability for the officials. Or if there had been a large demonstration outside of the Court. Or if the citizens had cooperated to buy spots on the radio and the television to demand justice (sorry, I forgot that this option is prohibited in a Constitution that limits expression).

In summary, while the SCJN feels no social pressure but it does feel political pressure, well it's clear where it will lean: toward the side of the country where nothing happens.

I'd say he's wrong to place too much blame on the Court. If it was legally sounds, that's a decision that we probably shouldn't complain about too much, regardless of whether or not it squares with political convenience.
However, the broader point about the lack of accountability at the top of the Mexican political system certainly holds up. One thing that the Bush administration really made us appreciate was the need for heads to roll when things go horribly wrong. You don't want all government officials operating in fear for their jobs, but you do want them to know that catastrophic failure has consequences. That understanding has been lacking in Mexico; as Zuckermann says, aquí no pasa nada. Accountability doesn't have to imply criminal charges, but if 49 children, defenseless in every sense of the word, can be killed in a fire and no one has to answer for it, well, something is seriously wrong. Calderón couldn't well fire Bours, but Karam and Molinar (who left his post a couple of months before the fire) presided over the body responsible for regulating the ABC day-care center, that regulation was plainly insufficient, and both are still on the cabinet, holding the same position they did more than a year ago when the fire was sparked.

Failed State Rankings

Mexico dropped a couple of spots on Failed State Index this year, from 98 to 96 (which means that there are 95 countries around the world with more capacity for chaos). This is surely not good news, but the relatively mild decline despite close to 10,000 murders related to organized crime once again demonstrates that the Mexican state has deep reserves of strength and resilience, beyond the daily mayhem in the drug trade.

From the Department of Love and Soccer and Missing Details

From Roger Cohen's column on the World Cup:
I’ve had my doubts about Capello since he stripped John Terry of the English captaincy earlier this year because he had an affair.
What's missing at the end is, of course, "with a teammate's girlfriend", which changes the circumstances substantially.

Also, according to this article, last Thursday afternoon the comment most widely heard in Mexico City's Zócalo was, "Chicharito, give me a baby!".

Monday, June 21, 2010

More Highlights from the English World Cup Experience

Silly announcers aren't just an American phenomenon:
If England go out, the pundits will have to talk about something else, and on current evidence they appear singularly incapable of doing so. "Slovenia have only been around for two decades and stats are hard to come by," Gary Lineker said by way of explaining his own lack of insight on England's next opponents. Someone needs to tell him that the 30-year rule doesn't apply to Wikipedia.

Worse, on the BBC's part, was the decision to send Alan Shearer into the Guguletu township. Who saw that one ending well? Nonetheless, into the valley of death rode the Polite Brigade, and the results were even more excruciating than anticipated. "When you were segregated, how did you feel about that?" Shearer asked one bemused elderly man.

It got better. Shearer then interviewed a local rapper and, as she talked about her murdered brother, a community worker, you could see Shearer, hands in pockets, frantically trying to summon some emotion. "They erected this bench in his memory," she said, her voice tinged with grief. "Great," Shearer replied.

On Calderón's Attempts to Communicate

Jorge Chabat thought that Calderón had bad luck in his revamped PR strategy on security coming the same week as Mexico's defeat of France, lamented the lack of consideration it received, and wrote that it should have been reiterated by cabinet officers:
President Calderón's message is without a doubt the best text that the government has written on the issue. The analysis is deep and difficult to refute in its logic that a democratic state is based on the application of the law. Said analysis clearly maintains that the option of combating drug traffickers was the only one possible, at least within the framework of the existing laws, and that doing nothing wasn't a responsible option. The president's text truly deserved a better destiny than it has had until now. It deserved a an answer from all of those who have insisted that the war against organized crime is the cause of the deaths and that said war is a whim of the president. It deserved, in summary, a serious discussion among the political class and the media outlets that unfortunately hasn't happened and seems like it won't. The bottom line is that it's a shame that such a transcendent issue for the country, the lack of an effective communication strategy on the government's part has left the president alone ina war that, whether we like it or not, is everybody's, because after all those who will benefit from greater security or those who will see our lives destroyed by greater insecurity are all of us and not just the president.
Of course, the strategy re-release hasn't reached the end of its rope yet, and there's still time for the rest of the administration to follow up on it. But the broader reaction that Chabat is talking about, crowded out not only by the World Cup but also the Veracruz scandal, doesn't seem to be in the offing. If the president couldn't spark a conversation with a prime-time address and an accompanying article published in newspapers across the country on the weekend of the most intense drug violence of his administration (and perhaps in Mexican history), it's hard to imagine that a procession of cabinet officials following up will be able to do any better.

New Markets

Costa Rican officials say that the availability of crystal meth in San José is on the up, as is, not coincidentally, the presence of Mexican drug runners in the country. While street gangs and Mexican organized crime have been an ever more worrying phenomenon in other parts of Central America, such reports have been relatively rare in Costa Rica.

Less than an Unequivocal Vote of Confidence

Frank Lampard on Fabio Capello:
The vice-captain also said he hoped Fabio Capello would remain as manager even if England failed to qualify for the second round. "Capello isn't to blame," he added. "That's like saying Robert Green is to blame for us drawing with the United States.
For readers' reference, here's Robert Green's most important contribution to the US-England game:



I guess Lampard would prefer to substitute "is to blame" with "had a vital and shameful role in a broader disappointment", which, again, falls well short of saying that Capello's done well.

Crime Polling

Today brought with it another installment of the periodic polling on public perceptions of Calderón's crime policies in Excélsior. There's nothing too shocking; in a nutshell, the public is slightly more pessimistic about the efficacy of Calderón's strategy than in the past (59 percent say the situation is out of control, compared to 31 who disagree; as recently as April, those numbers were even). At the same time, they are still in favor of it by a wide margin (58 in favor, 37 against; the high-water mark for those in favor in the Excélsior poll was 80, reached in early 2007 and early 2008). The poll was taken last week, just after a run of massacres around the country that received a lot of press (including the most deadly day in Calderón's term), so some of the drop in support might be temporary.

Explaining the Rehab-Center Killings

Here's Jorge Fernández Menéndez:
The attack again puts on the table two points that have been time and again underestimated: there's neither control nor regulation of the operation of addiction treatment centers in the country and, as such, they are increasingly being used as genuine centers of operation by various criminal groups, above all the street gangs. This is what happened in the three previous attacks in the state of Chihuahua, we don't know what characteristics Fe y Vida had, but everything seems to indicate that it was part of this trend. According to reports, the executors were part of the group La Línea, which is part of the Juárez Cartel, and the victims were from Gente Nueva, which is part of the Pacific Cartel. And these groups are in turn composed of gang-members, the former, of the Mexicas, the latter, the Artistas Asesinos.

We shouldn't be surprised that this happened in Chihuahua, but rather that it's not happening elsewhere in the country. In Michoacán, it was public knowledge that the Gratitud hostels, which were also presented with a religious varnish, were centers of recruitment, indoctrination, and operation of la Familia Michoacana. Thousands of young people passed through to be tapped, by persuasion of coercion, by that criminal group. And the same thing is repeated all over the country, above all in the most marginalized areas.

But there exists no control over these centers: we are scandalized by what happened in the ABC day care center and, correctly, justice for those responsible is demanded. But we forget the enormous quantity of victims that are interned in many of these centers that have turned into exactly the opposite of what they proclaim. There are, of course, institutions whose work is notable, in the public sector as well as the primate, particularly, given the massive impact of its work, the Juvenile Integration Centers. But who controls those who operate the institutions claiming to be religious that have antiquated methods to supposedly "cure" addicts? Who controls those that are run by criminal groups to occasionally stow certain members that need protection, to indoctrinate youths, to train them, use them, what a paradox, as centers of distribution of drugs? Who controls the addiction treatment centers that have been discovered to be keeping people kidnapped, whether to seek a ransom or as a hiding place in the long network of human trafficking? And there's no control because no one wants to be responsible for it. The federal Secretariat of Health has regulatory norms that aren't applied in the states, and the states and the municipalities simply don't even visit these centers. Anyone can install them and begin to give "attention" whether it's free or not, nothing happens.
Unfortunately, it's hard to imagine regulating the nation's addiction centers becoming one of the government's priorities in the near future.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Battle over Herrera's Tapes Escalates

The PAN's tactic has been to turn the tapes (which, to recap, feature Veracruz governor and presidential hopeful Fidel Herrera evidently revealing his own improper involvement in the race to succeed him) into a broader critique of the PRI approach to politics. César Nava said the PAN's challenge was to bring down the PRI's "feudal lords", while Felipe Calderón attacked the "old model" of using public money for electoral ends.

The nature of the Herrera comments stirs up one of the chief worries about the return of the PRI, a worry I mentioned last week: that while the Mexican political landscape has changed, the PRI is the same old gang of dirty tricksters. As such, Nava's and Calderón's comments make for smart politics, though one has to wonder if it will be enough for the PAN candidate to overcome a 20-point deficit in Veracruz.

In response, Enrique Peña Nieto, Manlio Fabio Beltrones (among others) both questioned whether Mexico's intelligence agency, Cisen, was part of the operation to tape Herrera, with the latter also calling upon Calderón to focus his efforts on governing. Beatriz Paredes reaffirmed her prediction that the PRI would take a clean sweep of the 12 gubernatorial races on July 4. PRI deputy leader Francisco Rojas said that the PAN was using illegal methods to attack his party.

In a sense, it's interesting that priísta presidential candidates have leapt to Herrera's defense. You'd think that 2012 was close enough that Herrera being tarred by an explosive scandal, especially one that could potentially trip up the PRI succession in Veracruz, would be good news for anyone who is thinking about a run for Los Pinos.

In Honor of Election Day

From Gatopardo, a piece about a famous South American president:
"Mija, tell your story", the president says to the woman who complains because there's no professor in her city or exercise programs for the elderly. Attentive, almost always dressed as a provincial, with a woven serape over his shoulders and a sombrero, he travels religiously every Saturday to the Community Council of some small town or poor neighborhood. He scolds his ministers in front of the people. They ask him for favors for six or seven hours, which is televised to the entire country. He awards or doesn't, explains, shows off his grasp of the details. He recites figures, names of rivers, the curves of highways. He speaks plainly, in the diminutive: "La tierrita", he says. He doesn't like it when they invoke their rights and they demand of him. His handlers filter out the rabble-rousers. Micro-managing, temperamental, theatrical with his tantrums, Uribe makes people feel as though they have a father nearby, one for whom they matter, but one who above all is in control.
I'm by no means a close follower of Colombian politics (and feel free to disregard my conclusions if all the reasons that I see this as noteworthy are more than anything ignorance on the blogger's part), but it strikes me that this is a side of Uribe that gets very little attention in the US media, despite the fact that, as the article points out, he does this sort of thing "religiously". However, stuff like this about Chávez is everywhere. (Indeed, I imagine a few readers thought it was Chávez until the final line. Understandably.)

I don't think this is an example of the media treating one or the other unfairly, exactly, but rather an example of the limitations of narrative in the American media. For most of the past decade, the prevailing Latin American narrative has been the Pink Tide and efforts to push back against it. A huge proportion of US coverage of the region was within that context, even when it was forced and totally inappropriate. Here we have a rather clear example of a longstanding populist tactic, and a pretty interesting one at that, but since the protagonist is a man of the right, it doesn't fit into the broad Latin American narrative that guides US media coverage. As a result, while I've read all about Aló Presidente, after eight years of the Uribe presidency, this program was news to me.

The UN on Mexican Educational Efforts

The opinion of the former on Mexico's Alliance for Quality in Education is not positive, saying that it responds to political exigencies rather than the grave educational inequalities suffered Mexico's poor and rural citizens:
The quality of education in Mexico is poor, since it is only evident in private schools or public institutions that are located in middle-to-upper-class urban areas.

A Closer Look at Tijuana

The most recent Mexican Law Review, edited by John Ackerman, has an in-depth piece about the challenges in cleaning up Tijuana's police department, written by Daniel Sabet. A few highlights:
It is worth noting that while organized crime plagues governments the world over, there has been success in fighting organized crime, dismantling collusive ties with the state and reforming police departments in the United States, Sicily, Hong Kong and Colombia. In all these cases, citizen mobilization played an important role.

[Break]

Given the failure of municipalities like Tijuana’s to clean up their departments, the federal government began to promote a nationwide vetting program referred to as control de confianza [trust control]. Through the Subsidio para la Seguridad Pública Municipal [Municipal Public Security Subsidy or SUBSEMUN] program, Tijuana received around US$8.2 million in 2008 ($104 million pesos) and a slightly smaller amount in 2009 and 2010.68 In exchange, it had to meet a number of requirements, including submitting their officers to a vetting process run by the federal government.69 Tijuana and other cities (150 in 2008 and 206 in 2009) sent their police to take tests in practical policing skills and knowledge, fill out asset declarations, enter personal information into a national database and submit to psychological, medical, and polygraph tests.70 The use of the lie detector at the municipal level was a new step in Mexican policing, previously employed by only a very few agencies.

[Break]

While salaries have been raised and efforts have been made to better protect police, accountability mechanisms have not been sufficiently effective, professionalism has been undermined by weak selection criteria, and the police are still vulnerable. Although the department does appear to be moving in the right direction, altering the equation will require sustained long-term reform efforts upheld by several consecutive administrations. Such a long-term approach would allow for gradual improvements in policy implementation and the elimination of loopholes that perpetuate police illegality. This is a tall order in Mexican policing, as elsewhere I have argued that the primary obstacle to successful professionalization has been precisely the lack of continuity in reform efforts across administrations.

[Break]

Nonetheless, organized crime’s willingness to resort to violence with impunity and the lack of effective accountability mechanisms at a local level, suggests that line-level officers will continue to prefer tolerance and collusive corruption to confrontation. This finding can also be generalized to other Mexican cities with a strong presence of organized crime. Regrettably, a review of the literature and my own research suggests that there are no recognized models of effective local accountability mechanisms in Mexico despite successful international models.
Unfortunately, it was written last September, to soon to dig into the reasons for the decline in violence in 2010. It remains, however, an insightful piece with lots of lessons for different cities across the nation.

The Decline of Europe?

With the second round of group games almost behind us, Portugal was disappointing in its one game, England even more so in its two, Germany was great against Australia but poor against Serbia, Spain is pointless, and Italy was held to ties against Paraguay and New Zealand, after falling behind in each contest. And that's not to mention poor France, whose single point in two games doesn't even begin to capture the evident insanity in ranks of the defending runner-up. Of the powers, only the Netherlands have shown up basically in form for each match. This is the continent that produced every one of the semifinalists in 2006, and has accounted for more than half of the World Cup champions. The chances are overwhelming of the above will right the ship and the final four in South Africa will have at least one traditional European power, but it's not been a strong start for the best of the Old Continent.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Follow Up: A Bit of Sense

Eric Balderas, the Harvard student and undocumented resident arrested earlier this month in San Antonio, was given a waiver so that he no longer faces deportation. That's a no-brainer for the authorities, but commendable nonetheless.

Another Day, Another Famed Writer Passes

Yesterday it was Jose Saramago. Today, Mexico's Carlos Monsiváis. Our respects and sympathies to each man and those who survive him.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Which Is It?

The new UN global crime report says that 20,000 guns pass from the US to Mexico on a yearly basis. The ATF recently pegged the number at 300,000. Some discrepancy is understandable in estimating the size of a hidden trade, but one presumably serious organization's guess is 15 times the size of the other's (unless someone omitted a zero or something). How is that possible?

On the Lack of Effort from Rich Countries

El Universal, after noting that the UN says that 70 percent of the $72 billion global annual income from cocaine traffic remains in rich countries, comes down harder on the US than is typical:
For decades Europe and the US have signaled corruption in developing countries as the principal cause of transnational crime, which exonerates them of guilt.

In the case of Mexico and its combat of drug traffic this unequal relationship is clearer. The northern neighbor refuses to control the free sale of assault weapons that wind up in the hands of the cartels, it doesn't stop the activity of the cartels in their border towns, and it has done almost nothing to reduce the consumption of drugs by its citizens. Why should we then do the dirty work of the US?

The risk is that, with the ineffectiveness of the anti-crime strategies in Europe and the US, other nations refuse to confront the problem. This would be the worst scenario because it would allow drugs to normalize their presence in the "third world".

The developed countries will have to much more than they are doing, or crime will eventually turn into something tolerated and normal on the other side of their borders.

Learning English

Via Matt Yglesias and Made in America, evidently today's Spanish-speaking immigrants pick up English significantly more quickly than previous waves of immigration, though slightly more slowly than today's non-Spanish-speakers:

It seems clear that today's immigrants are not taking longer to adapt linguistically than in the past, and one can only assume the acculturation goes beyond mere language. I wonder what the reason for the difference between then and now is: better schools, less clustering in ethnic ghettos, more familiarity with English upon arrival, a variety of other factors I've not thought of?

Ominous News from the Mexican Penal System

The CNDH says that nearly a quarter of Mexico's 429 jails are controlled by the inmates, which helps explain the several killings (some of them resulting in dozens of deaths) in Mexican jails in recent years. Mexico's security problem certainly is a many-headed dragon.

More Worries about Police Reform

Ruth Zavaleta worries that the state police plan will remove the role of local police as crime preventers:
[T]he perception is that there will exist greater control of police agencies, but the successful public security in many countries with democratic systems is that which is based on two planks: the coercive and the preventative.

[Break]

The municipal, community, or borough police has to be a citizen police that everyone knows and that maintains a link that fosters order in the short term and good government. The municipal, community, or borough police must be a police that with its presence inhibits crimes such as the sale of drugs outside of schools and even deals with traffic tasks preventing accidents or act of violence against students.
Andrew Selee had similar comments on the plan.

US Down


We need some goals. Dempsey, pretend it's Juve in front of you and rip off another beauty like the above score. Please!

Update: That seems to have worked quite well, even if Dempsey wasn't key to the comeback. Nice work, gringos.

A Tragedy and Another Chance

The CNDH reported that the Mexican army is responsible for the April deaths of two children after it opened fire on a Tahoe carrying a family in Tamaulipas. It rejected the military's findings that non-military gunmen had fired the bullets that killed the children, aged 5 and 9 years. The military has a few weeks to accept or reject the findings.

Every incident like this presents the opportunity for the military and its political bosses (who frankly don't act as such) to begin to address the abuses of which the army has been periodically accused. This of course seems more like an accident than outright abuse, and the most worrying allegations involve forced disappearances and extra-legal executions, but the army seems to have been at fault here, the result was no less tragic, and the response, that instinctive denial of responsibility, is worrying as ever.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Life Imitates Primary Colors

Fidel Herrera is playing the role of Jack Stanton, claiming that the audio that the incriminating audio is nothing more than "technological tricks".

Great Win

As the above photo (snagged from the El Universal website) demonstrates, lots of people in Mexico are talking about the victory over France as historic, the sort of confidence-builder that could lead to Mexico being a legitimate contender. It was a great win (Mexico's first ever against a team with a World Cup title), but everyone is getting a little ahead of themselves. For a couple hours after the game, the headline on the Excélsior site was, tellingly, "And now, to avoid Argentina", in reference to the likely opponent next round should Mexico fail to defeat Uruguay next Tuesday. That sentiment is pretty widespread, which, while understandable, suggests that there are limits to the newfound confidence. But there's no need to dwell on what the defeat of France doesn't mean for too long.

As far the players, Rafa Márquez has never looked better playing for el Tri than he has in the last two games. I remember someone telling me years ago, when he was still a major part of the Barcelona defense, that he was a better midfielder (where he used to play with Atlas as a youngster) than a defender. Turns out they were probably right. Franco looked no less like a waste of a starter against France than he did against South Africa (and he's got a mini-mullet now that makes him resemble a frog, to boot). Salcido was fantastic. Giovani was not as electrifying as he was against South Africa, but he still looked dangerous when he touched the ball. Pérez looked more confident, but I don't remember him making a single save that you wouldn't expect a relatively talented high school keeper to make. Guardado has to get on the field more. Arguably Mexico's most consistent contributer since 2006 has played less than half an hour in the first two games. I don't know if the nicks from the La Liga campaign are still with him, or Aguirre's saving his legs, if he thinks the team is better without him on the field, or if just doesn't want him to affect the team with his Deportivo la Coruña stink, but the fact that Guardado hasn't made more of an impact is really surprising.

As far as Mexico eventually contending, the best argument isn't that France represents a huge hump, but the age: the offensive core of this team (which shares some players with the 2005 U17 World Cup champs) is very young. Vela and Giovani are 21, Chicharito is 22, Guardado is 23, Barrera is 22. The team's average age is 27, which is in the middle of the World Cup pack, but Blanco (who's 93) drags the mean northward.

Lastly, Lesley Téllez has some photos of people celebrating from the streets in Mexico City

Mexico vs. France, and Nit-Picking about Geography

I sure hope this guy starts today versus the French. Hernández, I mean, not the North Korean.

ESPN's (presumably British) cohort of soccer writers has a habit of referring to Mexico as a Central American nation. (Only one link, but I've seen it before. You'll just have to trust me.) I'm curious as to whether this is just a different national convention regarding geographical groupings (and a not entirely unreasonable one, at that), or just a reflection of ignorance by said writers. I've generally thought that the first explanation is more likely, but then again, someone at Soccernet referred to Costa Rica as South American not too long ago.

What Improving the Police Requires, beyond Its Unification

Ernesto López Portillo has a smart take on the unified police plan:
The principal problem in all police agencies in the democratic world is to balance power and control, so as to make them function to the benefit of citizens and their fundamental rights. When the police doesn't manage to enforce the law to the benefit of the citizens, it fails. The balance between power and control is the recipe for success. The first surprise is that there are fragmented and unified models around the world where said balance has been reasonably well achieved. The best example of the fragmented model is the US, with approximately 17,000 police agencies. It has problems with the balance, as everyone does, but they have gone about resolving them reasonably well. On the other extreme lies Guatemala, with a unified model that finds itself in extreme conditions of institutional weakness, violence, and corruption. About Colombia and Spain it is said that they are unified models, when in reality they are municipal police powers there. France demonstrates the effectiveness of having two police agencies with national coverage, which support and control each other in a reciprocal manner. In reality, no police model is better in and of itself, everything is in the professional quality of its functioning.

[Break]

New tasks, uniforms, units of intervention, patrol cars, academies, technology, weapons, et cetera, all of this is the correct path if and only if the practices of the police change on the street, which refers us back to the eye of the hurricane: guaranteeing operational supervision.
He closes the piece by saying that reorganization is easy, reform not so much. This difference is the key to whether or not this plan improves police capacity in Mexico. It could be a convenient lever with which to exercise greater control, but the problem isn't of itself the lack of levers of control, but rather their ineffectiveness or disuse. Substituting 32 police agencies for several thousand will likely reduce the bureaucratic distance from the presumably honest and competent top cops and those doing police work at the most basic level, and it will make those levers of control more obvious, but it doesn't mean that control from the honest top to the less honest bottom will be more frequently or more effectively exercised. (And that's assuming that the people at the top are basically honest, an assumption many do not share.) Nor does it mean that police will be better paid, better trained, and instilled with a better sense of esprit de corps. A unified police doesn't mean that the next cop who pulls me over won't ask for "soda money". Which is to say, a unified police command might make it easier to improve the police, but it alone is not an improvement.

Asking for Judgment

César Nava and Jesús Ortega are both asking for legal action against Fidel Herrera, about whose electoral activities we wrote yesterday. The article linked above says that all Herrera has said on the matter is, "The demons are out, but the truth, good always conquers evil, and Veracruz continues ahead". That doesn't exactly call to mind Joseph Welch, and indeed it's not clear that he wasn't in fact referring to some mystical parlor game that has captured his attention.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

State Police Forces Gain Steam

The plan to replace municipal police departments with a single state body was approved by the legislature in Coahuila, and also earned the support of Marcelo Ebrard. As long as we're on the topic of the Mexico City mayor, he recently reiterated his belief that the left must go into 2012 with a single candidate, which basically means Ebrard of AMLO rather than both. If support among the PRD is any indication (and one suspects that AMLO's lead only grows in the non-PRD left), that means that Ebrard will be forced to go back on his words or step aside for another AMLO run.

Criticizing Calderón's Efforts

Jorge Fernández Menéndez wasn't overly impressed by Calderón's strategy rollout:
There was no new strategy in the fight against organized crime, as some colleagues have said, in the article that the president published at the beginning of the week. It could be a bad or good strategy, but there was nothing new at all and the objective wasn't to present it but rather, on the contrary, ratify the stance held since the beginning of this administration. Things that have been said on countless occasions were simply pasted together into a text, such as this isn't a fight against drug trafficking but rather a fight to recover public security, which for some turned out to be new.

And that very fact demonstrates two things: first, that in the media we are not paying attention to something as basic as the central message of the president regarding the most important topic of his administration: the fight against organized crime and all that has to do with security. For many it's more important to tally, with all sorts of imprecision, the number of victims and fallen than the reasons that they are falling. But all that demonstrates as well that the government message on the issue is a disaster zone: if after four years of governing with the same strategy there is still space, when the strategy is laid out again, for people to interpret it as something new, that means that the message hasn't been permeating even among the media outlets.

Interpreting the Violence

Between Calderon's speech/op-ed, the recent spike in mass killings, and the general desire to comment on the nation's constant bothers, now is even a better time than usual for commentary on insecurity. From Ricardo Pascoe Pierce:
This governmental decision [to make the Zetas the priority for the government] has been complemented by others, from various drug cartels operating in Mexico, also considering the Zetas the biggest problem for their business, because drug trafficking also operates within certain ranges of social acceptability. That's why prominent members of the cartels seek "social acceptability" and appear in magazines, hold court on their social worries and offer solutions for the country. Part of the business is being accepted as a supplier of a product with a certain level of tolerance between the different socioeconomic strata. The perception that a product originates from a trail of violence, death, illegality and lack of acceptance is not, without a doubt, very good for business. So, in the "serious" cartels, the unhinged violence is in every way a business problem.

There exists, therefore, an uncomfortable but explainable confluence between the objectives of the federal government and some cartels. They are united in their determination to annihilate the Zetas. Once this issue is resolved, which could be this year and, as a result, there could be a significant reduction in violence in the country, the federal government and the cartels will have to adapt to a new environment.
What follows is a call to consider legalizing certain drugs. It seems as though the reality is a lot messier than the scenario Pascoe paints and the Zetas are arguably not as a big a driver of violence as he indicates, nor is it entirely clear that the government can or will concentrate all its efforts on eliminating the Zetas. But something like what he describes seems to be happening (what with the Gulf-Sinaloa alliance). Insofar as it reflects a recognition by the government that it needs to pick its spots and concentrate its efforts on certain gangs and regions, this is a good thing. Hopefully it does indeed lead to less violence.

Calderón Talks to Mexico

Here's Felipe Calderón's speech to the nation last night, echoing an editorial published around the nation earlier this week:



Sorry, no translation. In short, he describes the reasons for his policies, and then outlines the five major planks of his strategy: joint operations with local authorities and citizens, improving operational and technological capacity for government agencies, reforming the legal and institutional framework, and a police that actively prevents crime, and strengthening international cooperation.

I think the strategy as he describes it is not deep enough (more later), and his chronology about extortion seems backwards (he implies that extortion was a major reason why he adopted the more aggressive policies than previous executives). Offering an exact cause and effect is a bit tricky in such a scattered and hidden industry, but by the government's own calculations, extortion became a huge problem after Calderón started chasing organized crime, though it was already on an upward swing. It also makes sense that as moving drugs northward became more fraught as a result of Calderón's more aggressive stance, existing criminal groups were to seek to replace lost smuggling income with other activities, such as extortion.

Nonetheless, Calderón's smart to be doing this. The PR aspect of his security policies has been deficient, and the logic of his decisions is not as widely understood as it should be. Also, given the ever-increasing levels of violence, any indication that the federal government hasn't entirely forgotten about the average citizen is welcome.

Covering the Drug Traffickers

Gatopardo had an interesting profile of the men behind Sinaloa's muckraking Ríodoce in last month's edition (unfortunately, it's not online). It was a bit too self-reverential for my taste, but it had a number of interesting sections, among them the following:
Is the Mexican press covering the drug trade correctly?

Ismael looked at me as though he had a mentally handicapped person in front of him and he now knew where to lock him up. He then says without exaggeration:

The thing is that no one is doing it, man. Everybody talks about gunfights, they publish photos of the decapitated, or, like Milenio, they count the dead. Nothing more. Proceso is the best that does it, although they go too far on the issue. Televisa fills its news with pure violence, but they don't understand it. The same thing happens at El Universal. Reforma deals with the issue very timidly. Nobody has thorough coverage. Nobody digs, for example, on the Mérida Initiative. Why isn't anyone interested in insisting that this plan is for the United States to stick its boots in Mexico? Why do they let the gringos shit on us, piss on us, tell us that Mexico is shit and nobody questions it? In Mexico no one talked about the issue until the US did. We never take anything seriously.

Ismael returns to his cigarette. Another puff. He continues.

It's not a nationalistic position, man, it's serious. Look: no one explains what happened with Osiel Cárdenas, why did they seal his case for 25 years? Why will we see him free in three or four years? What's going on behind the scenes? An agreement? The same with JT (Javier Torres). That guy's about to get out. Ríodoce has said it, it has placed it on the table and all of those who call themselves journalists don't give a shit. The other day I was watching Tercer Grado. All bullshit, nothing serious. There's not even real interest in understanding the phenomenon of the narco. In Nexos, for example, I read a report that a writer did about Arturo Beltrán Leyva; he just copied what had already been printed. That's not understanding drug traffic, that's bullshit.

Do you think there's a war against drugs?

This isn't a war, a war is something else, this is a badly planned fight. The incredible thing is even Calderón recognizes that it's wrong and he keeps doing the same thing; well, what does the guy want?
I think his understanding of the US's goals in the Mérida Initiative is misguided, but the section about who's covering drug smuggling is interesting. I take the criticism to mean that no one is doing much investigative reporting on drug traffic, but rather repeating the government press releases, which is something I've mentioned before. It's hard to knock the press for doing that, because the threats to their well-being for digging deeper are very real, as the dozens of dead reporters in the past decade demonstrates. Some journalists are willing to live with the risk and walk the fine line (something they talk about in the story with regard to the rules for reporting on drugs), but most reporters would understandably calculate that no news story is worth their life. If there was a genuine commitment to punishing those who threaten the press, it would free those reporters who aren't risk junkies but just competent professionals to practice the kind of journalism that Ríodoce does.

Exaggerations

One of the entertaining byproducts of the World Cup is the increase in Soccernet headlines that are, oh, six times more hysterical than the content of the news story would suggest that should be. For instance, when I read, "Ronaldo's ref rant after Ivory Coast draw", I was looking forward to reading a rant from Ronaldo about the refs. Understandably, in my estimation. What he actually said, however, was far more measured:
"Sometimes it's difficult that the referee doesn't give fouls because he thinks I dived. I know the game is very quick and the players are very quick, but sometimes I don't understand the decisions of referees.

"I respect them, but sometimes I don't agree because they don't protect the dangerous players. In the first half, someone tackled me and I was given a yellow card. I didn't do anything, but he gave me a yellow card.

"Sometimes I don't understand, but that's football. I know I don't have to react if I get a yellow card. I don't want to speak about the referee. I respect the decision and I want to be focused on helping my team and to do my best."
He sounds more like George Washington after the incident with the cherry tree than the whiny Ronaldo I've come to know and love.

Violence

Since last Friday, there has been a significant uptick in large-scale violence around Mexico, with massacres in Tamaulipas, Michoacán, Chihuahua, Mazatlán, and, now, in Taxco, Guerrero. The government is investigating whether Édgar La Barbie Villareal is among the dead in the latter event, which would make him the biggest capo to fall at least since Teo García in January.

Hidden Mic

Someone taped Fidel Herrera, governor of Veracruz and potential PRI presidential candidate, making references to what appears to be his inappropriate and perhaps illegal involvement in the campaign to determine his successor. Among the more embarrassing comments: he said of the PRI's candidate, Javier Duarte, that he "anda muy reapendejado", which could be roughly translated as, "He has his head way up his ass"; in the course of the same conversation, he encouraged his interlocutor to plagiarize a campaign jingle; he told a candidate for a local race who complained of lack of funds to come see him, and promised to get him some T-shirts; and he said, in apparent reference to the races, "Right now I have total fucking power; I have the government in my hand".

Duarte has thus far been way in front of his opponents, but one wonders if this scandal will be enough to take the (total fucking) power out of the PRI's hands. You also have to think it bumps Herrera down on the list of potential presidential substitutes should Peña Nieto falter.